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Surprising Song Sparrows


We noted yesterday that we at Birding delight in running articles with surprising content. Case in point: Paul Hess’s “News and Notes” in the current, January/February 2013 issue. Hess starts the coverage with an item on the recent falcons-aren’t-related-to-other-raptors news that has surprised so many of us. But it’s Hess’s second item, on the supposedly well-known Song Sparrow, that we’ll focus on here.

13-1-09-02 [Song Sparrow]The familiar song of the Song Sparrow technically is known as the loud crystalized song. Click here to listen. Likewise familiar to many birders is the soft crystalized song—also known as the “quiet song.” Click here to listen. Both of these songs are used to advertise territory. So far, so good. No surprises—yet.
Right: Photo by Tim Zurowski.

Now listen to this song. What’s up with that! Could this be one of those subsongs, sung by young males practicing how to sing? Nope; it’s sung by the same adult male who sang the two “normal” territorial songs we heard above. This fascinating song is referred to as the warbled soft song, and it has a surprising function.

If you’re an ABA member, head on over to the ABA website to learn more about the Song Sparrow’s warbled soft song. Our online content includes:

  • The full text of Paul Hess’s online-only article, “A Threatening Song”
  • Sound recordings of different songs sung by male Song Sparrows
  • Sound spectrograms that help you “see” the sparrows’ songs

If you’re not an ABA member, what are you waiting for! Join today, and we’ll rush you the January/February 2013 Birding, which includes exclusive 2013 ABA Bird of the Year content and Bird of the Year stickers.


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