A Song for August 18

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If the playback aborts before the end, trying playing the sound from inside the checklist.

This is a standard neighborhood call in temperate eastern North America. You can hear some other neighborhood sounds, too, a Carolina Wren, and a Safelite guy repairing a windshield. In fact, if you want to hear Blue Jays, there's no place like a neighborhood. I spent a week in the Choctawhatchie swamp in 2009 looking for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and we didn't hear or see a Blue Jay the whole time. That eased some of the concern about Blue Jays imitating kint calls of IBWOs. Jays and crows know where they goods are, so they're usually found near us.

Pieplow calls this very familiar sound of the Blue Jay jeer. It is, however, the Blue Jay version of the caw calls of crows. This doesn't mean I object to his terminology. His sound-names are used to identify similar-sounding sounds, not sounds with genealogical kinship. His visual indices are the result of monumental scholarship and have the potential to be the most important resources birders have ever had for identifying sounds by acoustics alone. The cognate, or homologous, sound of the Steller's Jay, the Blue Jay's closest relative, is transliterated by Pieplow as snarl. It is very noisy, and yet I believe it is derived from the same ancestral sound as Blue Jay jeer, and crow caw, for that matter. I hypothesize that birds have some "switch," as yet undiscovered, for easily adding noise to a spectrally-banded sound like the Blue Jay's jeer. I'll demonstrate that with a Mountain Chickadee call one of these days.


In writing the commentary for these posts I have made extensive use of the invaluable bioacoustic resources listed below. For phylogenetic information, I often start with a web search of "Phylogeny of x," where x is an avian genus, family, or order. That is a hit-or-miss proposition. A recently-released resource that makes phylogenetic queries more systematic is the Birds of the World website from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you follow the link and type the name of an avian family into the search box, you will be able to visit a home page for that family that presents the number of genera and species, and an illustration for each genus. If you subscribe, you will get more information. Also available to subscribers is the Birds of the World species accounts. Rolled out in 2020, this is currently an amalgam of the Birds of North America series, that was initiated by the American Ornithologists' Union around 1990, a recently-initiated online equivalent for Neotropical Birds, and the Handbook of Birds of the World series that was produced by Lynx Edicions, also beginning in the 90s. BNA has been hosted by the Lab of O for some time, and they recently added HBW to their portfolio. Especially useful for my purposes is the Systematics History subsection of the BNA accounts. EBird still has its separate species pages for all the birds of the world. These feature photos, recordings, range maps, and numerical eBird statistics, but little text. Overall, the abundance and availability of resources is astounding. Never has so much been available to so many for so little.

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Email: web at archmcallum.com

Nathan D. Pieplow. 2017. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Nathan D. Pieplow. 2019. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Donald Kroodsma. 2005. The Singing Life of Birds. Houghton Mifflin.