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WebExtra Feature—supporting material for "Macaulay Library's Treasury of Sounds" Birding Volume: 40 Number: 5 Pages: 32-33.

Macaulay Library

The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers an opportunity for audio-visual study of avian vocalizations and associated behavior on an unprecedented scale.

In a feature prepared especially for Birding, Jack Bradbury, director of the library, has created URLs for web pages that contain songs and their associated sonographic representations for each species discussed in the print version of "News and Notes" (September/October 2008 issue, pp. 30–33). The following are examples of comparative vocalizations from the library's files. (Two requirements to enable viewing of the spectrographic features are a QuickTime software program and a free browser plug-in, which are available at the Macaulay website. The website includes instructions for downloading them.)

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"Traill's" Flycatchers

The rray-bee-o of the Alder Flycatcher and the fitz-bew of the Willow Flycatcher sometimes sound similar to the ear. Yet they differ fundamentally in structure. Listen and watch how they differ.

Alder Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

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White-breasted Nuthatch

Calls of the White-breasted Nuthatch differ distinctly in three geographic regions. Birds in the East say yank yank. Those in the interior West say ti-ti-ti-ti. And those on the Pacific slope say chuey chuey chuey. The differences are so striking that a birder who has no experience with these birds in all portions of the range might not realize that they are hearing the same species.


Interior West

Pacific Slope

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Yellow Warbler

Songs of the Yellow Warbler are among the most variable of North American wood-warbler species.

One variety is a classic sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-sweet, upslurred at the end.

Another variety ends downward, sometimes reminiscent of a Chestnut-sided Warbler.

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Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow songs vary distinctively among geographic populations. One example is a difference between the clear, slurred whistles in the "Red" (iliaca) subspecies group, which ranges across the far north from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast, and the mixtures of clear, warbling, and buzzy notes in the "Thick-billed" (megarhyncha) subspecies group, which occurs in the Pacific Coastal mountain ranges and the Sierra Nevada.

"Red" Fox Sparrow, Quebec

"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow, California

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Historic Recordings

Browsing the Macaulay Library website may turn up some historic recordings. For example, in May 1929 a movie company asked the famous Cornell ornithologist Arthur A. Allen to record bird songs on sound film. Allen and his graduate student Peter Paul Kellogg tried and succeeded. Their pioneering results began a century of technical advancements culminating in the library's immense present-day archive of worldwide animal vocalizations.

Two of those historic Allen-Kellogg recordings from 1929 include a Song Sparrow and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.