A Song for June 17

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As a group, New World blackbirds of Family Icteridae are capable of some pretty weird sounds. Two of them show off in this cut. A handsome male Great-tailed Grackle is our focus, and the source of the weirdest sounds, but Red-winged Blackbirds are also prominent off stage, and their "gurgle-ee" songs have that blackbird flair as well. And then, there is the Yellow-breasted Chat that fills the background with his loud chirps and low series of notes. Finally, two more conventional birds, the Song Sparrow and the Willow Flycatcher sound off occasionally. These are just the birds you would expect in a freshwater marsh in northern New Mexico, and they do not disappoint.

Below you will find the usual sonogram. It is the sound track of the video below it. You can actually maneuver them to be visible on the same screen, and even play them at the same time. The reason for that would be to find the grackle's sounds on the sonogram. They are varied and unusual. Try that if you like, but I have also provided a key to the grackle's sounds just below. Scroll down below the video for more commentary on blackbird mating behavior.

0:04-0:07: Short Song, 0:29-0:31: Wave Song, 1:13-1:14: Short Song, 1:31-1:34: Slow Series, 1:40-1:42: Fast Series (Rattle), 2:07-2:08: Wave Song, 2:24-2:27: Wave Song, 2:37-2:41: Wave Song, 2:59-3:02: Wave Song, 3:08-3:11: Fast Series (Rattle), 3:23-3:35: Single Note, 3:35-3:39.5: Wave Song, 4:09.5-4:11.5: Fast Series (Rattle).

The video of the grackle shows that he puffs himself up before delivering his loud and unusual sounds. This is typical of the icterids that produce harsh sounds like these. Apparently it is necessary to build up air pressure in the respiratory system before initiating the sound. It seems similar to the production of sound in a bagpipe. You also notice that he flaps his wings with some of his sounds. His performance is truly multi-media. And he's pretty good-looking to boot. The entire package is thought to have been produced by sexual selection, driven by the preferences of the females of the species. Because they live in wetlands, where they don't need the assistance of a male to raise their young, so the story goes, they can indulge their esthetic preferences in choosing a male as a sperm donor. But therein lies the rub. The sperm donor must have good genes, or her daughters will not be healthy and her sons will not succeed at mating. So, according to the Handicap Principle, those males capable of the most arduous displays will succeed, and the form of those displays and the esthetics of the females will evolve hand-in-hand, so to speak.

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