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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote: American Robins are Exceptional Singers

Air Date: Week of May 19, 2017

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An American Robin singing (Photo: Gary Witt)

The American Robin is often the first bird to sing in the morning, and the last bird to trill into the evening air. BirdNote’s Michael Stein describes how robins’s wide repertoire of caroling phrases and notes creates a unique serenade every time.

Transcript

[MUSIC - BIRDNOTE® THEME]

CURWOOD: Of all the sounds of early summer that make us think of long sun-filled days ahead, the chorus of birds singing even before dawn are among the most joyful. And as Michael Stein points out in today’s BirdNote, there’s one showy stand-out.

[AMERICAN ROBIN SONG]

STEIN: These rich, caroled phrases are among the best loved and most widely heard in North America. This superb song belongs to perhaps our most familiar bird, the American Robin.
As singers go, the robin is exceptional. They’re often the first birds to sing in the morning, starting well before dawn,

[WHINNY]

and the last you’ll hear in the evening, holding forth into deep twilight.

[CONTINUOUS ROBIN SONG IN BACKGROUND]

Robins also begin singing earlier in the year than most birds, often in mid-winter.

[CONTINUOUS ROBIN SONG IN BACKGROUND]


A robin sings from a nest perched in a conifer (Photo: Tom Grey)

And robins can be remarkably long-winded. While their average song strings fewer than a dozen short phrases together and lasts a few seconds, robins sometimes sing for minutes without a pause.

[ROBIN SONG CONTINUES.]

But the most extraordinary measure of robin song is its variety. In each song, a robin sings a varied selection from a repertoire of 10 to 20 different caroling phrases. Then, as evening comes on, the same robin interweaves these phrases with exquisite whisper-like notes from its personal treasury of 75 to 100 different whispered notes.

[SONG INCORPORATING HISSELLY PHRASES]

The potential song variety is amazing. The musical results, enchanting. I’m Michael Stein.

Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Song of American Robin [94255] recorded by W.L. Hershberger; [44903] recorded by G.A.Keller; song with hisselly phrases [94383] recorded by W.L. Hershberger.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2005-2017 Tune In to Nature.org May 2017 Narrator: Michael Stein

Background on repertoire and variation from Donald Kroodsma’s “The Singing Life of Birds,” 2005 and from Nathan Pieplow’s “A Robin’s Many Songs” at http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/2836

CURWOOD: And for photos, soar on over to our website, LOE.org.

 

Links

Listen on the BirdNote website

About the American Robin, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

 

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