Donald Kroodsma, Alex Chadwick
Bird vocalizations discussion.
Donald Kroodsma, Alex Chadwick
Bird vocalizations discussion.
Santiago Imberti, Alex Chadwick
Bird research discussion.
Sight and Sound
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
- 39.6500042 -120.4881763
- 2060 meters
DPA 4060 omni mics.
Log of DAT #:5A
mumble conversation in background, measuring birds; 1:37 -a bird is released, it chirps and flies away;
Don Krutzma, Professor at the University at Amherst, Biology.
And you study bird song?
I study birdsong in all the ways that I can imagine; trying to understand how they acquire their songs, where they get their songs from, what they do with them, over evolutionary time why they came to sing the way they do, all the way back to the brain -how the brain controls singing. So there's so much involved in everyone of these songs that we hear.
Do you think that birds mean something by their song? What is it that they mean?
Well, we usually think that most of these songs have to do with male aggression, so these males are defending their territory and trying to impress females. Probably all that's going on simultaneously. So when these males sing there are other males listening, but there are probably females listening too. And females are constantly monitoring the males around them to help them make decisions.
Do you think that it makes a difference to the females?
It must make a difference to the females, but it's very hard to determine that. We can go out, this is one of the fascinating things that's been discovered over the years, a lot of these birds are socially monogamous. We see a male and a female together, they feed the young in the nest together. But when some DNA work is done in the nest it's discovered that the female has not been entirely faithful to the male so that all the singing we hear going on around us, our hunch is that the female is listening to these males and using those songs to make her help decision. Does it do her any good? Well, we would have to find out how well her offspring do over time and that's almost impossible to determine. It has to be about the females. They're listening and making these extra pair decisions on how to mate.
What is extra pair.
Extra pair is outside of the pair. You have a male and a female so that's within the pair. In the jargon we talk about EPCs, the are extra pair copulations or extra pair fertilizations.
So if a female is in the nest with two or three young, it's possible that there are different father for the same hatch of birds.
Yes, absolutely. A bird like the indigo bunting. The male is a brilliant blue, the female is a much drabber brow, if they have four numbers in the nest up to half of the babies may be fathered by a different male. It can depend on the female. A young female paired to a young male might recognize that the older male next door is the more studly of the two males. She would be the female that would seek these extra pair relationship. It's probably not he older females paired to the older males. So these females, they know what they're doing. It's not a random process by which they go about choosing a mate.
How long have you been studying bird song?
I truly heard my first bird in 1958, this was after being a chemistry major in college. So I guess that 33 years, Frightening.
What do you mean when you say you truly heard your first bird?
Well I think everybody at one time or another hears a bird, but to truly listen to it, to listen to it as I'm talking to you Alex, to hear all these birds going on around us, to hear the warbler up in the woods and the gross beak out hear singing and then to hear another gross beak or sparrow out, and I hear all this going on as we are sitting hear speaking; or just hearing a robin play out all that it knows, getting to know a robin as an individual and the little voice prints as individual.
You mean birds don't all sound the same to you?
No. well in some species, like these flycatchers we're hearing around us, the song is encoded in the DNA, and the prescription for the song is pretty much the same in the DNA for all these individual flycatchers. But we were listening to chipping sparrows this morning and it was just fabulous. There was one right in front of us and he gave a very rapid, dry, buzzy sound, but then off to the side we heard one with a slower rattle We could hear these two as individuals, and then we heard a third one off they way. So these birds, they learn their songs and with this listening comes some flexibility, some individual distinctiveness. We could camp out right there and with eyes closed we could monitor the movements of these individuals around their territories. So no, all birds don't sound alike, but it takes a few years to appreciate that.
When you go out in a forest, as this morning, what is it that you're listening for? What is that experience?
The experience is greater than some of the words I think you can muster to describe it. We needed to be out here this morning before the birds were singing; we needed to feel the world wake up; to feel the sunrise approaching us a 1 mile every five seconds and this dawn chorus sweeping towards us. I was eager to hear how these chipping sparrows interacted at dawn. During the day, when most people hear them, they're at the tops of trees. At dawn, on the ground, often right together on the territory boundary, really spitting bullets back and forth; a very short, staccato machine gun like fire back and forth at each other. Just to feel that energy that these birds put into it. And then these gray flycatchers, they're singing at arms reach. We could almost walk up to them and just grab them right out of the bush. There's just an extraordinary energy that happens in that first half hour before sunrise. What's going on there is largely a mystery and maybe that's why it's so exciting. It's the mystery of what happens at dawn.
We have a hunch that it's all about negotiating relationships with each other. But these chipping sparrows, they come together right on these territory boundaries -you can have large territories, but three or four males will come together and they can be within a few yards of each other in some kind of dominance relationship. Females are listening to. So this whole network is all happening simultaneously. You've got all the species, chipping sparrows, everything combined.
ambi -interview area, not much sound
That was a split track with Don Krutzma on the right and Alex on the left.
You could ask the same question of parrots and humming birds: Why do they learn too? But the flycatchers don't learn, but there is this very close relative of the flycatcher that lives down in the tropics, these bell birds that clearly learn to sing.
How do you know?
We have about four lines of evidence, the best line of evidence though is that you can record all of the males in the same area and they all have the same song; but you come back a year later and they're all a little different. These males, they live 25 years easily, so we can chart these things from the mid seventies to now and we can see these things just changing over time. So all these males are just listening to each other, just changing their songs, much like we were talking about hump back whales earlier. Hump back whales are so amazing because all of the males change their song at the same time. It seems like Hawaiian and Mexican populations change their songs simultaneously, but how do they communicate with each other? Nobody knows, but that's by far the best evidence that these males, that's the very definition of learning -they're listening to each other and changing their songs.
But really, the question that appeals to you is why. Why do they learn?
And I don't have an answer, but my hunch is there's something about what we call a lecking(sp?) mating system where all the males display in a given area and then the females come in and choose what males to mate with and then go off and raise the young by themselves. So something about the competition among the males in these mating systems where all the males are in a showcase and the males are trying to keep up with each other, young males trying to match what the very dominant successful birds are doing -it's my hunch that that is a situation in which this learning originated. All these song birds, 4500 species of song birds that all have these brains that enable them to learn -this ability to learn must have evolved in the song bird ancestor, 90 million years ago maybe. It's impossible to associate with any particular social situation in the song birds because all of that has changed and gotten mixed up over the 90 million or so years. But among these bell birds learning has evolved much more recently, because they have close relatives, the flycatchers that we hear around here today, that don't learn. So among very close relatives you have some that learn and some that don't. The goal is that by identifying the ones that learn and the ones that don't we'll be able to find out what context in which this learning evolved. That's the hope. That's what lures us back to the tropics every year.
You said that they learn to sing in the same way that we learn language?
Yes, these song birds that we're hearing our here, like that song sparrow, the gross beak, the warblers, the tannninger, these are all song birds and everyone of them requires hearing an adult so that it can imitate them and sound like the proper bird it's meant to be.
What about when they're first born?
They have a period, if they don't hear anything, they will sing something that will be unrecognizable as to their species, for most species. There are a few that I can name that might do ok, but for the most part they start listening carefully when maybe they're 2 weeks old and then up till maybe 50 days there is a period in here when they are just locking on to what's around them. And they are so good at imitating the details of adult songs with just a few exposures. European nightingales, for example, 200 different songs per bird, and they learn all these details from the birds around them, but they need just a few exposures and they pick it up just like that.
So the youngsters babble. Wee babble. I have some marvelous recordings of my daughter just babbling. And what we do when we babble is we take all the sound that we know and we mix them all up; just exercise our brains and play with the sounds. These song birds, if you could catch one of these song birds late in it's hatching year, August for example, you'll hear exactly the same thing. They're taking all these sounds that they've learned and memorized and mixing them all together. Maybe before that first winter they'll do fairly well But they'll come back the next spring and perfect it and get the song just right. So they learn; they need to hear themselves sing just as deaf people cannot speak as well as normal hearing people can because they don't have that feedback to their ears. And that's the same with these song birds; they have to hear themselves sing during both parts of the learning process. First the have to memorize it and then they as they sing they listen to themselves trying to match what they've stored up in their brain.
So these songbirds I like to think of as our cousins. I know we think of chimps and such as our cousins, but none of the other primates do anything like what we do in learning our language, learning the sounds that we use to communicate. So in that sense we humans are rather remarkable. And it's the same for the song birds. All these songbirds learn but it was thought that none of their close relatives learned, and for the most part that's probably true, but there are these few species down there -the bell birds, members of the family _____ - they're very closely related to these flycatchers and I think have some answers for us.
ambi -interview site, some birds
Recording is stopped, starts again
This is a western meadow lark we've heard and we're going out to try to get it.
ambi -some birds, lots of wind, not very good
I'm Santiago and I am from the southern part of Argentina, what is known as Patagonia. I live close to the ____ Strait. I work as a ___ guide. I also do some mountaineering and generally speaking some exploring. Well the thing that attracts me most is birds. Though I do some stuff with mammals as well birds are my main interest. South America, as you may well know, is one of the continents with the most birds in the world and there are many many thing to be learned there so even people with the highest degree have the chance to add something to the general knowledge, and that's what I'm trying to do.
Could I ask for your full name?
Yeah. My full name is Santiago Imberti.
Do you have an undergraduate degree?
Yes, I have an undergraduate degree but it's not in biology. It's in tourism. I studied two years of biology but due to the economical problems in the country and do the fact that nobody ever sponsors research I decided to work in something that was as well in nature and gave me money to pay for my own research.
Tell me, what is it that brought you up here to study recording?
Well last year I started seriously recording birds. I wanted to do this course cause I knew among birders this is known as the best recording course you can take if you want to start. And I was to late for that one and I was not planning on coming back this year but 10 days ago Greg called me and said, ¿Hey we have a spot for a Latin American. Don't you want to come?¿ He said it was only ten days so try to fix it, try to fix, and you'll probably learn a lot of interesting things. So I made my way here after 48 hours in different planes. It was interesting.
What is it about listening to birds, cause I think most people think of bird watching not listening, and the people who come down the to Patagonia who you guide, probably there are more bird watchers than bird listeners.
Actually that's a very good point. In Patagonia you don't need to be a bird listener because the space is pretty open, it's flat terrain, or you're in the ocean and the forest are not that close, I mean the canopies. So most of the time you can see the birds and you don't need to identify them by call. But if you move further north in South America and you go to the tropical forest, the cloud forest, most of the time you don't see any bird at all; you just hear mixed flocks of maybe 50 or 70 species and if you try to spot them you are gonna miss them all, so they way to go is to learn their calls so you can, ok I'm sort of interested in this call that I can't recognize and you can separate it from the rest and work on that bird. So you try tape recording it and you play the song back and somehow you may work them out of the forest and get a chance to see them. So there it's very very important and it's actually something new. I think the window opened in the last 30 years that ear birding is very important, especially in these areas. Most of the old birders were just by sight, or shooting at the beginning was the way to go. Now it's earring, especially in these places.
You guide tourists. Do you find people starting to listen to birds?
More and more yeah. The problem is, it's like me here now. I hear many birds but I don't know their calls so I might spend half an hour trying to record the most common yankow(sp?) or something like that. So people do listen but most of the time they are not really aware of what they are listening, unless they come really prepared. Nowadays with all these tapes and cds that we have you can learn the call of a bird and then go looking for them, and that's really good. It's a good way to learn before you go to the place what are you going to be looking for. But it takes years of being in the field to be able to recognize all the different calls, and most of the birds have a huge repertoire of calls and songs and it depends on the season also. So it's not as easy, but it's a good way to learn.
Have you been recording very long?
Well, I've done it on and off in the last three years and since last year I started doing it a bit more constantly. I bought the equipment and actually started practicing and practicing. I'll do it longer than this of course. There are many birds in Patagonia of which there aren't probably any recordings at all and that probably has to do wit the windy conditions because even if you are there it doesn't mean you can record them. So, there's a lot to be done in this area and that's what calls my attention.
I wondered, you said that you wanted to pursue your own researching Patagonia. What is that you hope to do eventually?
Well I'm actually in 2, well 3 or 4 project, but 2 that are more important. Together with a friend we rediscovered a rail(sp?) that was thought to be extinct. It had been seen only three time sin the last hundred years. And no we've found a few groups in three or four different areas. And because nobody has seen a population of more than two individuals, we know nothing about the biology of these birds. So I'm doing the basic biology of that. And another project at the moment is a hooded grib, which a native to Patagonia. It was discovered in '74, which is pretty interesting for a big bird. Nothing is known about their winter rounds so I'm working on that, which is also quite rough. Patagonia gets really cold in winter and that's why no one goes and that why there's so much to learn. And besides this I'm doing some other stuff, like inventory of birds in a national park and I'm working on a small book of the birds around my city, sort of like a tool for the people to get engaged with what they have and in away learn with what they have. Because where I live is so small it's very easy for me to have contact with the people and sort of transmit what I learn in the field. And the idea of my research is to get it to the people so we can do conservation together an not just write papers and stuff, but get something to the people. So it sort of works in both ways.
And what city is that?
Rio Galiagos. It's the last town you'll find on the continent and then you have Tierra Del Fuego and _____ which is actually the southern most city.
Wow. It must be wild there. It must be really wild.
The wind is very wild. It's funny because during this course all my question have been ¿What do I do to avoid the wind¿ and they're getting to the point, ok guy why don't you move from there and go somewhere else cause there no point for you. It's wild. It's nice. It's a big country. For example, the province where I live is about half the size of Texas, and there's only 250,000 people living there; half of that in one city almost. And, so you drive 10 minutes and your in the middle of nowhere. It's not like here where you drive and there are thing in the middle of the road. We have 250 kilometers until the next town, and there's nothing in the middle. No petro station, a few farms, but nothing else. So it's good for wild life, spotting and doing research. It's interesting.
ambi -interview site; some birds, but not many
Slate -that was an interview with Santiago Imberti, split track, space dominies(sp?), dpa mics and zeplin, Alex on left and Santiago on right,
We're using space dominies(sp?). We're gonna hunt some sheep here.
ambi-sheep; 54:25-55:18 - sound of walking; 1:00:30 -sounds of bells from sheep moving comes in;
Slate ¿a flock of sheep, just above the slope where the interview was done, dpa mics, pre-amp is giving excessive hiss
Recording is stopped, starts again.
At banding station, some conversation in the background, nothing really happening
Recording is stopped, starts again.
ambi -¿rustling reeds on the side of the road¿, some birds; lots of wind interference
ambi- a bird, very close