For the Birds Radio Program: Bird Song Awareness Week

Original Air Date: July 24, 1989

Laura has declared this Bird Song Awareness Week. 3:58 (Date confirmed)

Audio missing


Bird Calls I

(Recording of a Blue Jay)

Today begins national bird song awareness week—another of those commemorative events that I proclaim myself every now and then so Congress can concentrate on more important matters. Every birder hears a lot more birds than he actually sees—while camping I’ve counted over 40 species myself some mornings before even opening my tent. Today we’ll concentrate on some of the most familiar bird songs.

The state bird of Wisconsin, the American Robin, is well known to just about everyone. Robins sing in long sentences made up of words of three syllables. People sometimes interpret at least part of the song as “Spring is here.”

(Recording of an American Robin)

Another one of the most common backyard bird songs is the House Sparrow’s “cheep.” When I was a little girl growing up in Chicago I liked to listen to House Sparrows at dusk imagining that they were gossiping about the day’s events.

(Recording of a House Sparrow)

The chittering of Chimney Swifts alerts people in both the city and the country to the presence of these little “flying cigars.” Although nowadays Chimney Swifts prefer to nest in chimneys, the ones who lived here before modern conveniences managed to get along just fine in hollowed out trees. Chimney swifts are usually most noticeable at dusk when large colonies swoop down into their roost for the night, chittering all the way.

(Recording of Chimney Swifts)

Although the European Starling is one of the most abundant birds in North America, not many people recognize its song, which is a jumble of imitations from the songs of other species of birds and children playing to car horns blaring and chainsaws screaming. Starlings are closely related to mynahs.

(Recording of a European Starling)

Crows are another familiar bird—some might even say too familiar. The American crow, related to the raven and magpie and to the rooks and jackdaws of Europe, has a simple caw caw. This time of year the baby crows have a nasal caw, easy to distinguish from the adult’s harsher and raspier caw. Like human boys, young crows’ voices change as they reach adolescence—by September you won’t be able to tell this year’s birds by their voices.

(Recording of an American Crow)

Blue Jays, another species in the crow family, have a variety of calls, from their raucous “jay jay” call to a bell-like whistle and a sweet whisper song.

(Recording of a Blue Jay)

The Black-capped Chickadee is another familiar bird with a familiar voice. The chickadee-dee-dee call helps chickadees communicate within a flock. The male’s sweet fee-be-be whistle attracts a mate, reinforces the pair bond, and helps him to defend his territory against other chickadees.

(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

The White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches both have calls interpreted as “Yank Yank.” The White-breast’s is louder and lower-pitched.

(Recording of a White-breasted Nuthatch)

The Red-breasted Nuthatch’s voice has been described as a tiny tin horn.

(Recording of a Red-breasted Nuthatch)

Red-winged Blackbirds have a variety of calls, from their territorial “Okalee” song to whistles.

(Recording of a Red-winged Blackbird)

The Song Sparrow sings a jumble of notes, sometimes sweet, sometimes buzzy, but always beginning with two or three identical notes.

(Recording of a Song Sparrow)

Knowing a few familiar bird songs can add a dimension to an ordinary walk through your neighborhood. Once you start recognizing a few familiar songs, you’ll quickly start noticing other songs, and will be well on the way to becoming a bird song expert.

(Recording of a Blue Jay)

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