For the Birds Radio Program: Birds People Seldom Think of Singing

Original Air Date: July 28, 1989

Some conspicuous birds are not considered great singers.

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(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

The call of an adult Bald Eagle disappoints people expecting a macho display from a deep-voiced majestic predator. Instead, all they get is some wimpy chirping.

(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

Although people associate birds with songs and calls, many species of birds aren’t particularly known for their calls. Great Blue Herons are usually silent, though when one does speak up, people take note, if only to cover their ears.

(Recording of a Great Blue Heron)

Great Egrets, a snow white version of their relative the heron, don’t sound much better.

(Recording of a Great Egret)

The Sandhill Crane, which isn’t at all related to the Great Blue Heron, has a unique and interesting guttoral call.

(Recording of a Sandhill Crane)

The American White Pelican isn’t always silent.

(Recording of an American White Pelican)

Mallards are known to quack, but how many people know the peeping call of the Blue-winged Teal?

(Recording of a Blue-winged Teal)

Wood Ducks, which are too beautiful to quack, have a pretty “eruck, eruck” call.

(Recording of a Wood Duck)

Many people believe that snipe are imaginary birds, but actually they are flesh-and-blood shorebirds with a long bill and pointed wings. Snipe have both a call and a winnowing sound which is produced by uniquely specialized tail feathers when they hold their wings in a special still position to fan the air past the tail exactly right.

(Recording of a Common Snipe)

No one hears Snowy Owls when they winter in the Northland. But once they reach their tundra nesting grounds, they become pretty noisy, at least during the breeding season.

(Recording of a Snowy Owl)

Hummingbirds take their name from the droning sound when they beat their wings, and many people don’t realize that they can also make little twittering sounds. Two weeks ago when I was leading a day camp group at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth, we found a hummingbird swooping back and forth in big ‘u’s‘ in his nuptial display. But hummingbirds also twitter when they spot an intruder on their territory—when I wear my red hat out birding, I often hear hummers shouting their tiny little expletives at me.

(Recording of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird)

Grebes swimming in northern lakes during migration are fairly quiet, though once they reach their breeding marshes they can be noisy. My favorite grebe call belongs to the Pied-billed Grebe. Back when I was learning how to feed my first baby cereal from a spoon, I learned that imitating the Pied-billed Grebe’s call is the perfect way to get babies to open their mouths. Apparently they are so amazed at the utter lack of dignity displayed by their parent that they sit agape—at which point it’s easy to shovel a spoonful of food down.

(Recording of a Pied-billed Grebe)

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