For the Birds Radio Program: Weird Bird Songs and Calls

Original Air Date: April 13, 1987

Laura plays some shockingly weird calls of birds.

Audio missing


![Sandhill Crane] ( “Sandhill Crane”) Weird Bird Calls

(Recording of a Willow Ptarmigan)

That was the call of a Willow Ptarmigan–a tundra bird related to our Ruffed Grouse. Back in my junior high teaching days, the Willow Ptarmigan was invarably the big winner in my class’s annual “Pick the Weirdest Bird Call in the World” contest.

(Recording of a Willow Ptarmigan)

Yup–that is pretty weird, but it’s not a call you’ll ever hear around here. Fortunately, plenty of Northland birds make weird calls, too–like Sandhill Cranes. Cranes are not at all related to herons, although many people confuse the Great Blue Heron with the Sandhill Crane. The heron has a heavy bill and strong neck muscles for striking at large fish. All this forward weight makes it impossible for a heron to fly neck outstretched, so it pulls its neck in and rests its head on its shoulders in flight. A crane rummages through marshy vegetation for plant food and crustaceans, frogs, snakes, and whatever other animal food it can find. It doesn’t need the powerful neck muscles and heavy bill of a fish-eating heron, so a crane can fly wth its neck outstretched.

The Sandhill Crane’s call sounds like this:

(Recording of a Sandhill Crane)

Of course the Great Blue Heron is no Beethoven, either.

(Recording of a Great Blue Heron)

Many other birds that live in wetlands have loud, strange calls– this enables them to be heard over rustling cattails. The bird with the distinction of having the shortest name of all native North American birds, the Sora, has a weird call.

(Recording of a Sora)

Another marsh nester, the Pied-billed Grebe, has a bizarre call. Although Dr. Spock never mentions it, the Pied-billed Grebe’s call is guaranteed to cheer up any crabby baby when all else fails.

(Recording of a Pied-billed Grebe)

The American Bittern is also known as the stake driver or the thunder pumper for its call:

(Recording of an American Bittern)

The Yellow-headed Blackbird sounds mighty strange, too.

(Recording of a Yellow-headed Blackbird)

If you’re upland from a marsh, you can listen for the weird call of the raven.

(Recording of a Common Raven)

The Grasshopper Sparrow takes its name from its insect-like call.

(Recording of a Grasshopper Sparrow)

But for sheer looniness, there’s no beating our own good old Minnesota state bird.

(Recording of a Common Loon)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”