Singing Song Sparrow


03-15-07song_sparrow.mp3 (624kb)

As I headed out of the building where my office is, I heard a Song Sparrow singing from the bushes near the entrance. Hearing the song, I stopped to listen for a short time. The bird was perched in a low bush very close to a drainspout. The melting snow from the roof resulted in a fair amount of water dripping to the ground, creating an tinkling accompaniment to the sparrow’s song. I thought it might be nice to get a recording of this bird, so when I got home, I took a chance and grabbed my recording gear. I did not hear it singing as I approached, but as I got set up, it started singing again, almost like it had been waiting for me to return. It continued to sing for nearly ten minutes with only short pauses between long verses. (Unfortunately for my recording, the song was occasionally drowned out by vehicles driving by, people walking in and out of the door behind me and letting the door slam behind them.)

The nature of the singing was different than I am used to hearing. Most noticably, it did not have the full-bodied, high-volume sound that I tend associate with the Song Sparrow singing. When I first heard some very brief bird a couple of days ago, I thought for a moment that there was a starling mimicing a Song Sparrow. The sound quality was much more nasal or perhaps it could be described as a buzzy whistle, whereas Song Sparrow voices during full breeding song seem to have a very clear tone. Another difference was the structure of the song. This bird was singing much more continuously rather than in relatively brief stanzas (comprised of several short ideas) followed by a fair pause. In some ways, the structure of the song was more reminiscent of what I’ve heard from a dipper (though I don’t think I would have mistaken this for a dipper singing, even if it had been by a stream).

The constant noise of the dripping water so near to where the bird had chosen to sing made me speculate on the reasons it might have chosen that particular location. The ground near the building and under the bushes was largely free of snow, and I had observed the bird foraging more than once over the last couple of days. That seemed to be a pretty good reason to be in the area, but it still did not explain to me why the bird chose to sing right next to the falling water instead of over under the conifer tree where it seemed more sheltered and out of sight. (Incidentally, when I heard the brief bits of song a couple of days ago, the bird was right next to the water spout then, also.) I came up with a couple of different possibilities (other than the trivial case that it could be just coincidence). It’s possible it was using the water to mask its song. I’m not sure why it might want to do this, except that it was just practicing, so maybe it’s not cool to have all the other birds hear your mistakes (not that there were many other birds around). The other reason I came up with (and the one I like to believe, if for no other reason than it appeals to my aesthetic sense) is that the bird was using the sound of the water as an accompaniment. Perhaps the tinkling sound of running, dripping water is something the bird enjoys singing with.

The bird finally did stop singing after ten minutes or so. It started looking around for food, but did not spend too long at it before going back to sing a little more. It had seemed quite comfortable with my presence on the porch of the building only a few feet away, but when I leaned over to look, it got a bit nervous and flitted back under the evergreen shrub a little further away. I decided it would probably be a good idea for me to get home (having already stayed longer than I intended), so I left the sparrow to its business. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch and listen to it again soon.

3 thoughts on “Singing Song Sparrow”

  1. Cool recording. I’ve never heard a Song Sparrow sing like that before. It almost reminded me of a catbird the way it occasionally repeated a phrase and just kept going without a real pause.

  2. I am no expert, but I would vote for the accompanyment conclusion versus the practicing conclusion. Of course, much more likely is simply coincidence, but that is not nearly as fun. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I too haven’t heard a Song Sparrow quite like that one. Usually they come up for air in between songs! Thanks for sharing.

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