Kill-deer! Translating birdsong into English

October 26, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on the images to enlarge them and read the text better.

You can also read it here:

FORT SILL, Okla., March 17, 2016 — For people who are musically inclined, it might not be so difficult remembering all the different bird songs, especially those of species here only part of the year. But for some of us, the only way we can remember them is to translate them into English.

Birds such as the killdeer, a very common plover in this area, make it easy. They call out their own names. “Kill-deer! Kill-deer!” Well, sort of.

The eastern phoebe conveniently identifies itself. “Phee BEE!” Bobbing its tail as it perches is another way to separate the phoebe from other flycatchers.

I’ve lived all over the country, and I can tell you with some degree of authority that birds, like people, have regional accents. I remember hearing a robin in Arizona sounding very different from ones I heard in Seattle, and the robins in Maine were different from both. Robins generally sing, “Wake up, cheer up, cheery up, wake up!” Or something along those lines.

Take the cardinal, official bird of seven states. Growing up in Louisiana, I heard the male cardinal distinctly call out, “cheer, cheer, what? what? what? what?” But here in Oklahoma, it might just be “cheer, cheer, cheer.”

The chestnut-sided warbler, which we might see migrating through soon, greets us with “pleased pleased pleased to meet yoooouuuu.”

The mockingbird, which five states have claimed as THEIR state bird, not only has a delightful repertoire of its own, it frequently incorporates other bird songs seamlessly into its aria. Mocking them as it were.

Some of the larger flycatchers seem to be crying out for “beer,” or “three beers.”

A plain brown sparrow in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Ga., the endangered Bachman’s sparrow, makes itself pretty scarce most of the year. But during breeding season it sits atop a stem or branch and sings out, “here kitty kitty kitty” three times, each phrase in a different octave.

The black-capped chickadee’s song is “hey, sweetie” but its call does distinctly sound like “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” The Carolina chickadee has a four-note song “phee, beee, phee, bay” with the first and third notes pitched higher. Its “chickadee” call is more rapid and harsh than its cousin’s.
The white-throated sparrow sings, “oh, sweet Canada Canada Canada.” Even if it’s born in the U.S.A.

An easy website to learn birds and their songs is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s AllAboutBirds.org website. Various apps for your smart phone can replace a bird book and help identify songs in the field. iBird is my favorite. The Lite version is free but the more robust version costs money. The free National Audubon Society’s Merlin is geared for beginners.

Larkwire is a fee-based app with beginning to advanced versions and includes a song ID game.
Apps or websites are great for figuring out birdsongs when they can’t be translated into English

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Photos copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

 

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1 Comment

  1. Patti said,

    enjoying your Meadow Larking column

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