A Song for May 07

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Click the sonogram to hear and see the sound.

It was a cold, clear, early spring morning at Cottonwood Gulch, in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico, and the birds were singing. A couple of Black-headed Grosbeaks were duelling from the tops of leafless cottonwoods. Along the creek, greenish-purple Brewer's Blackbirds were making music of a kind alien to human esthetics, but surely excellent to those in the know. A Chipping Sparrow filled the air with monotonous, dry trills, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher gave pips, ka-briks, and breets as he flew around the Pinyon-Juniper Woodland. Which one do I choose for May 7?

I chose the grosbeak for musicality, but I do recommend the blackbird, available on the same Ebird checklist, for an alternative listening experience. The Pheucticus grosbeaks, Rose-breasted in eastern North America and Black-headed in the west, are both "robin sound-alikes," as are several Piranga tanagers. Of course none of these is challenging visually, but all do present cheery songs of 4-5 short phrases in the same frequency range. The grosbeaks have been described as "robins on speed," and you can see that in this performance. For one thing there are more than 4-5 phrases, which is almost always the limit for robins, except when they are singing without pause before dawn. For another, the delivery is hurried. Finally, a few of the grosbeak's sounds may be raspy, while the robin's are almost always pure and sweet. We'll have an American Robin here someday for comparison, not to mention robin-relatives from elsewhere in the world. And a Rose-breasted Grosbeak may be in the offing, too.

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