For the Birds Radio Program: Some Common Bird Songs

Original Air Date: June 13, 1988

Laura plays some of the common bird songs we hear up here. (4:01) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


(Recording of an Ovenbird)

That’s one bird song everyone in the Northland should know– the song of the Ovenbird. The Ovenbird’s exuberant song is the antithesis of what you’d expect from this shy, drab little warbler. The easiest way to remember the song is with the words, “Teacher, Teacher, Teacher”:

(Recording of an Ovenbird)

Another common song which is relatively easy to remember is sung by the Song Sparrow. This tune, which can be heard just about anywhere in the Northland except in the middle of dense forests, begins with two or three identical notes and then breaks into a jumble. I learned it as “Peace, Peace, Peace, all my little children, Peace!”

(Recording of a Song Sparrow)

The whistle of the White-throated Sparrow sweetens any day in the North Woods. This clear tone rings in the pattern, “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”

(Recording of a White-throated Sparrow)

The Common Yellowthroat is a handsome little warbler that can be found in cattail marshes and in brushy tangles. It’s much more often heard than seen, so it’s important to learn its song, which is made up of repeating phrases like “witchity, witchity, witchity” or “Lookee here! Lookie here! Lookie Here!”

(Recording of a Common Yellowthroat)

The one nice thing about tent caterpillars is that they attract a beautiful bird–the Black-billed Cuckoo, which is visiting the Northland in big numbers this summer. Our north country cuckoo is related to the European Cuckoo, which is famous for its promiscuity and its habit of laying its eggs in the nests of other birds. European Cuckoos are the most highly specialized nest parasites in the world. Not only are the young larger than their nest mates, giving them the advantage when begging for food, but the baby cuckoos also have the nasty reflex of pushing everything they can touch out of the nest the moment they hatch. There are quite a few films of these pugnacious nestlings rolling eggs out of the nest before their own down feathers are dry, giving a graphic new meaning to the term “sibling rivalry.” Fortunately, American cuckoos hardly ever engage in nest parasitism. The Black-billed Cuckoo does skulk around in the manner of its European relative, spending most of its time sitting still in branches, often right next to an army worm tent. It only occasionally flies across an open field to enable people to admire its long, slender tail. Cuckoos are in the same family as roadrunners, but I’ve yet to hear one say “Beep Beep.” To show their relationship to their European relative, they say, “CuCuCu.”

(Recording of a Black-billed Cuckoo)

The one song that more people ask me about than any other is the song of the Veery. This thrush sings in moist woodlands throughout the day, especially at dusk, but usually from a hidden perch. And it’s lovely flute-like tones are frustratingly impossible to imitate, so it’s hard for people to explain just what the haunting melody sounds like.

(Recording of a Veery)

So next time you hear this elusive songster, amaze your friends by calling out casually, “Oh, that’s just another Veery.”

(Recording of a Veery)

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