aba events
Nikon Monarch 7

Learn Thrasher Songs

facebooktwitter

 

All last week, I was honored to be at the ABA’s 2014 convention in Corpus Christi, Texas. My favorite bird down there, I have to say, was the Long-billed Thrasher. Long-billed Thrashers were everywhere!–in city parks in downtown Corpus, in upland thickets far from the coast, and in suburban yards right along the saltwater bays and lagoons. I didn’t see a lot of these thrashers, but I sure heard them. The songs of Long-billed Thrashers are unmistakable: wild and twangy, exuberant, they just go on and on and on.

There’s just one problem.

Here in the ABA Area, Long-billed Thrashers and Curve-billed Thrashers come into some amount of contact in South Texas. True, the two species tend to sort out by habitat–Long-bills in woodlands, Curve-bills in the desert. But that wasn’t the case on an ABA Convention field trip Jeff Bouton and I co-led this past Saturday. We were birding a super-productive stretch of eastern Kleberg County, and an astute trip participant asked a perfectly reasonable question: How do you distinguish the songs of Long-billed and Curve-billed thrashers?

 

Tom Stephenson, in his article in the March/April 2014 Birding (pp. 38-42), states that it is “impossible” to learn the songs of thrashers. That sounds depressing. But Stephenson’s message is actually a hopeful one. Yes, it’s hard enough to learn the song of any particular thrasher, and, practically speaking, impossible to learn all the songs of an entire population of thrashers. But it’s easy to learn a few basic rules–thrasher “grammar,” if you will. For example, this species has clicking notes, but this one doesn’t; this species has even phrasing, but that species has clear breaks or pauses; this species’ song goes way up and down in pitch, but that species’ song spans a relatively narrow range of pitch; and so forth. Learn just a few of these rules, and the “impossible” thrashers suddenly become gratifyingly easy.

Stephenson’s article focuses on the five “desert thrashers” of Arizona–Le Conte’s, Crissal, Bendire’s, Curve-billed, and Sage. The article spells out, in words, the essential grammar of each species’ song. The article also depicts, in pictures called sound spectrograms, what the thrashers’ songs look like. It’s great birderly discipline to learn bird songs in words and pictures, but, let’s be honest, even the most sophisticated of us benefit immeasurably from hearing birds sing. And it’s hard–er, impossible, literally so–to hear birds on the printed page. So, without further ado, we herewith present the songs of the five thrashers described and depicted in Tom Stephenson’s article:

 

Crissal Thrasher. From Peterson Field Guides: Western Bird Songs. Recording by (c) Lang Elliott.

01 Crissal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Conte’s Thrasher. From Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Western Region. Recording by (c) Lang Elliott.

02 Le Conte's

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bendire’s Thrasher. From Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Western Region. Recording by (c) Lang Elliott.

03 Bendire's

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sage Thrasher. From Peterson Field Guides: Western Bird SongsRecording by (c) Lang Elliott.

04 Sage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curve-billed Thrasher. From Peterson Field Guides: Western Bird SongsRecording by (c) Lang Elliott.

05 Curve-billed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alrighty, we have the desert thrashers all figured out. But what about Curve-billed vs. Long-billed? Here’s a link to a recording I made of a Long-billed Thrasher from that ABA Convention field trip a few days ago:

http://www.xeno-canto.org/176252

Any thoughts on how to distinguish Long-billed from Curve-billed?

 

 

 

The following two tabs change content below.
Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
Ted Floyd

Latest posts by Ted Floyd (see all)

  • NancyMJones

    But that wasn’t the case on an ABA Convention field trip Jeff Bouton and I co-led this past Saturday. We were birding a super-productive stretch of eastern Kleberg County, and an astute trip participant asked a perfectly reasonable question: How do you distinguish the songs of Long-billed and Curve-billed thrashers? http://sn.im/28v3ntg

  • Madeline

    Hi Nate, another comment that might best be deleted. Thanks, Madeline

Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
Read More »

Recent Comments

  • Matt F., in The How and Why of Urban Cooper's Hawks... { Unfortunately it's not just White-winged Doves they're going after. In recent years, Purple Martin landlords have been seeing alarming increases in the amount of successful... }
  • Nate Swick, in Rare Bird Alert: July 31, 2015... { My mistake. I see now that Machias is where it was *originally* sighted, not where it is seen now. Sent from my phone }
  • mtbattie, in Rare Bird Alert: July 31, 2015... { The Red-billed Tropicbird in Maine is actually not being seen on Machias Seal Island, an island way up on the border of Maine and Canada... }
  • Steve Arena, in The ABA Needs Your NWR Birding Photos!... { Female Least Bittern wing flicking while hunting; https://www.flickr.com/photos/pokedaddy/19421400216/in/photostream/ Photographed 05 July 2015, GMNWR, Concord Impoundments, Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts Male Least Bittern in flight https://www.flickr.com/photos/pokedaddy/18801591562/in/album-72157629831020551/... }
  • Amy K, in Rare Bird Alert: July 24, 2015... { Just one BBWD in Indiana, not a pair }
  • Older »

Categories

Authors

Archives

via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • What exactly is a field notebook? Part 5 of 5. July 30, 2015 5:14
    Recognizing that there are no such things as right and wrong, here are some thoughts for what you might include in your field journal (and field notebook!). But remember, it’s your field journal so you can do what you want. […]
  • What exactly is a field notebook? Part 4 of 5. July 29, 2015 3:51
    Fact: Careful observations and sketches help you really learn birds. […]
  • What exactly is a field notebook? Part 3 of 5. July 28, 2015 3:44
    It’s all very well showing some of my notes from recent years (Part 2), when I’m an experienced birder, but what did my notes look like when I was a teenager? It’s pretty clear, however, that I wouldn’t have come close to winning any Young Birder of the Year field notebook competition! […]

Follow ABA on Twitter