A Song for August 22

Previous Day  List of Days  Next Day

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

Several catbirds are giving their well-known "cat-calls" at dusk in this recording. These would probably qualify as whines rather than mews in the Pieplow lexicon, but I suspect those two types are just the ends of a continuum. I am most impressed by the similarity of this behavior to that of Brown Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds, the two common mimids where I live. All give a harsh call for a few minutes at dusk, and also at dawn. Listening for these sounds, which are used year-round, is the best way to beef up you count of mimids on a Christmas Count.

Now, those three mimids are on different main branches of the phylogenetic tree of the Mimidae, the family of Mimic Thrushes, so I suspect the behavior is "primitive" in the family. I would even expect that almost all members of the family do this. I'm not saying the sounds are homologous, although they easily could be, but I am saying the behavior is homologous. So, what about the desert thrashers of the southwestern U.S.? Pieplow presents a snarl for Bendire's and California, along with Brown and Long-billed, but not for Curve-billed, LeConte's, and Crissal. Those three have no sound that could be used in the manner of today's catbirds. At the least, that would require two "losses" of the sound and/or the behavior over evolutionary time. This clearly calls for more research. I can't wait to camp across the deserts in December and listen every evening for the local thrashers to fill in these blanks.


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.

Previous Day  List of Days  Next Day
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.

Unless otherwise specified, all text, photographs, graphs, sound recordings, and videos on this site © Dougald Archibald McCallum.