[Mnbird] Odd vocal habit

Steve Claas claa0002 at umn.edu
Sat Jun 19 13:48:04 CDT 2021


I’ve never posted to this list before, so it’s somewhat embarrassing 
that my inaugural post would concern what many would consider a rather 
mundane species. Here’s the skinny:

All this spring I’ve been hearing a bird song near our house (Ramsey 
County, St Paul, Hamline-Midway) that I could not quite place.  It is 
(mostly) a three-note sequence with tones roughly matching the “drink 
your tea” of a towhee, although more abrupt than a towhee and without 
the trill on the final note.  At times the three-note sequence is 
followed by two quick tweets of roughly the same pitch as the final of 
the trio. This morning I finally wandered over to see if I could 
discover who was singing.

The bird was clearly visible, singing proudly from a nearly bare branch: 
an American robin.

Although the tonal qualities of the song are somewhat robin-like, the 
song is (in my experience) not at all what I associate with a robin. 
There’s none of the 2-5 warbling repetitions before switching to another 
phrase that’s typical of robin song.  No “cheer up, cheerio.” No 
agitated “chirp-chirp, cluck-cluck.” No swooping “whinnie” call.  This 
bird only repeats the three- (or five-) note sequence over and over with 
a ten-second interval between songs. The other oddity is that the bird 
continues to sing all day long.  In general, the other neighborhood 
robins are back to their mostly dawn & dusk routine.

Not to make too much of the towhee comparison, but it has occurred to me 
that, when the two rapid notes are tacked on to the usual three, it 
almost sounds as if a bird without the equipment for a flutey trill were 
doing the best it could with a faux trill made of short, distinct notes.

For anyone else interested in this curiosity, performances can be heard 
daily at the intersection of Lafond and Syndicate in St Paul.

I am, of course, curious to know if others have ever made similar 
observations.

Steve Claas

claa0002 at umn.edu




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