sandhill crane dance

An Ode to Bird Sounds

Long after the mule deer curl up on their meadow mattresses, snipe dance with a courage that only the darkness can give.

From a damp stage, they dance by the romance of the moonlight and a trillion twinkling stars. The croaks of frogs act like the beats of a drum for the ethereal sound tracing their progress upward into the still mountain air.

The male snipe goes to great heights to impress a lucky spectator down below. An otherworldly whewhewhewhew emits from its slicing feathers as the snipe spirals skyward.

Spring Birdsong

red-winged blackbird singing
Red-winged blackbirds are among the most vociferous territorial defenders.

Spring bird sounds are always more than just sounds. They’re territorial warnings, pleas for food, or thousand-year-old courtship rituals.

This spring you can also listen for pods of dolphins, swirling in the depths of the deep blue sky above your head.

Swallows of all abodes—barn, tree, cliff, bank—playfully click, whistle, and chatter, mimicking oceanic orchestras as they swim through the sky.

Or in the forests, listen for the loud, free, unceasing vireos. Their self-interrupted recitals ring through the trees from east to west: I am here – look up – in the tree – at the top!

Mighty Roars

Or more ancient still—the guttural bellows of Sandhill cranes, like dinosaurs reincarnate.

American bittern
American bittern trying not to be seen.

But one of my favorites: the usually elusive American bittern. It’s a wonder that they evolved to create one of the most unusual bird songs in one of the most unusual ways—and that female bitterns thought it sounded attractive.

The bittern inflates a sack in its esophagus to violently pump air through its neck, in a low-pitch song that is designed to carry longer distances through thick wetlands than a high pitched one. It serves both to attract females and fend off other males.

This video of an American Bittern signing comes courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s site All About Birds.

No matter where you are this April, chances are you’ll hear some bird singing its heart out. I hope you can take a moment to listen.

(If you do and take a video or audio recording, email it to me with your location and I can identify the bird for you.)

Thanks to all the eBirders who submitted their bird recordings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library and allowed them to be used freely on the internet.






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