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Don Kroodsma  







Birdsong; Animal communication  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
10 May 2005

  • United States
    Hampshire County
  • near Northampton
  • 42.3275   -72.657778
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Split Track Stereo

Show: Don Kroodsma
Engineer: Johnny Evans (in studio)
Date: 5/10/2005

EA-Elizabeth Arnold
DK-Don Kroodsma

Split track, DK in LEFT channel, EA in RIGHT.

1:53 EA-So you're getting ready to take off on another trip, right?

1:57 DK-oh, I am, I am, I just need to go west for a month and sample from the Mississippi to the Pacific.

2:03 EA-and will you do the whole stretch?

2:06 DK-Well, its going to be a car and bicycle trip. I am going alone this time so the bike will be on top of the car, and the goal will be to record some of the finest sounds of the planet at dawn and then bicycle for a couple of hours and then move on the next spot.

2:25 EA talks with engineers

3:52 EA-brief intro, then Lets start with how you got into this. What was the catalyst for you to even get into bird song? And just devoting yourself to song?

4:17 DK-I think a lot happens when one is young and desperate and impressionable and I was all of those, I needed a project for a graduate thesis and fortunately 6 months before, someone had slipped some headphones over my head and I heard the magic of birdsong and when I needed that graduate thesis, I recalled that birdsong and one little question led to another. It's a very slippery slope.

4:43 EA-What is it that's just so intriguing about song to you?

4:47 DK-well I think what happens when you take a very powerful microphone, aim it at a bird, and this is a parabolic microphone, you aim it at the bird and that microphone is lifting the song right off the bill of that bird, and when you slip a pair of headphones on and you hear that detail and then you start to ask the simplest of questions, like how is this bird, what song is he singing, why does he have that song, from whom did he learn that song, if you have just a little bit of curiosity you can get totally captured by these birds, just by starting to listen carefully.

5:27 EA-is it the why or is it the what? I mean is it why birds sing or just the sheer intricacy and beauty of how they sing?
5:36 DK-Its everything with birdsong. We can ask, why does this particular bird have a particular song, in other words, what song does it have, why is it singing now, to whom is it singing, what is it about its brain and nerves and those 2 voice boxes that it, why is it control song like that, and in evolutionary time we can ask a simple question like why does a robin sing the way it does? And we trace it back through its ancestors, and so we're interested in the evolution of song, there's so many levels at which we can start to ask questions about bird song, and all so intriguing. 6:18

6:20 EA-even the magpie?

6:22 DK-heh, heh, now that magpie, that magpie is a member of this group of birds we call corvids, crows and ravens and jays, they're song birds, there's a technical group of birds called songbirds, but these are birds that seem not to have a song, they're songbirds without a song. And they are intelligent, and they are smart and good flyers, yes, even the magpie.

6:49 EA-So this is really a passion for you?

6:52 DK-I guess you would call it a passion, some of my friends have accused me of being obsessive, but but to me its just a logical thing that one does when one gets hooked on something.

7:05 EA-what stands out when you think of all that you have learned over this years, is it what you have been able to discern with respect to dialect, or what?

7:17 DK-I think the most satisfying thing that I have learned over a third of a century is simply how to listen. And its simply being connected with the world around me, its walking anywhere, its listening to any one individual bird, and if you simply pause and listen, you hear this bird telling its own story. And I do this with so many species now. I take people on walks. But we don't walk we stand, I mean I stand in the parking lot for a couple of hours and the birds come to us and tell their stories and its just enthralling to be connected with other beings on the planet in that way.

8:00 tech talk

8:28 EA-can we talk a little bit about dialect, or this sort of discovery that birds of the same species don't necessarily sound the same the world over?

8:41 DK-oh its true. You listen to any individual human voice and you hear an individual. You listen to any bird and if you hear the way the bird does, you hear individuals too. But then there's this next layer that we call song dialects and these birds have song dialects just like we humans have dialects, and there are any number of species where you can go and listen to all the males, and its usually just the males that are singing here in North America, and you can go any one area and listen to the males singing and they will all have the same song. But travel just a little bit distant and the songs are completely different.

9:20 EA-how did you discover that?

9:25 DK-Well I should emphasize that I definitely didn't discover it. There are many people who have studied dialects before me and the what my contribution to understanding dialects was I was so bold as to ask the simple question from whom does that young bird learn his song? Does he learn it from within the dialect where he's hatched or does he move freely about settle down where he will remain for his life and then learn the dialect there? So the answer that I got was rather striking. The young male rejected all of dad's songs, maybe not surprisingly, and then moved away from dad, and this is a bird called the Buick's wren, out in Oregon, and learned the songs of this distant location, and just a mile away, the 15 to 20 different songs that each male had were very different, so there were dialects, each male has 15-20 different songs and they change very rapidly over space.

10:25 EA-so if I went away to boarding school when I was a kid in Kentucky I would learn that dialect more so than what I learned from my parents?

10:35 DK -If you, chances are, well, with humans, learn multiple languages very young, but I'm told somewhere in our early teens we lose a lot of our flexibility for these young songbirds, they leave home when they're about 30 days old, and about that time they're in the peak of their learning ability. And so a young bird might learn two languages, but more likely he'll just loose his fathers songs and learn the songs of the locality where he sets up his life.

11:08 EA-Were you able to bring something that you could play for me?

11:14 DK-Oh, lets see, I did not bring any CDs with me.

11:20 EA-OK, that OK, can you give me an example and then we can we can, I mean I have obviously your CD, but could you give me an example of this that someone as tone deaf as me in birdsong could differentiate the same song because they're in different places?

11:41 DK-Yes and this does not have to be on the bike trip and this does not have to be on the bike trip? Well, I think the best studied bird is the white crowned sparrow. And what is so beautiful about the white crowned sparrow that he sings throughout his whole life. So you've heard one song from a white crowned sparrow, you've heard them all. Now, go to a place like the Point Reyes national seashore. And if you start around Bolinas, and head north, you may cover about 30 miles before you come to a major bay. And what you find there, over that 30 miles, is you find about 6 different dialects. And the way you listen, you listen to each male, lets walk the 30 miles for example, we'll do this in a days time, walk those 30 miles and what you'll hear is male after male singing the same song, and then you'll hit a wall. Its just a wall where the songs change abruptly. It might be at a little ravine, there might be some little physical discontinuity, but then you have another several hundred males to a thousand, all singing the song of the next dialect. So the dialects are really striking in this sparrow.

12:55 EA-and you know, that's just like us, isn't it?

12:58 DK-its exactly like us, and for good reason. These birds learn their songs just like we learn to speak. And its one of the biggest mysteries, I think, of the animal work. We ask ourselves, why do we learn to speak? Why are we so different from our closest relatives, the apes and the chimpanzees, why do we learn to speak more like these song birds sing, than uh, like our chimpanzee relatives. So it really is a striking phenomenon, these birds learn their songs, the young birds babble, they have song dialects, its uh, they're they're they're little people.

13:33 EA-from what we know thus far it is sort regional, or not regional, but its geographic?

13:44 DK the definition of the term dialect is, well, there are multiple definitions. The convenient definition of dialect I use, is all the birds in one area singing the same song, all the birds of one species, and all the birds of another species, of the same species in another area, I should just start that over, I've got that so tangled. EA-that's fine DK-the definition of dialect that I use is that all the birds of one species are singing the same song in one area, but just some distance away, could be just a mile or could be ten twenty miles the birds of that same species are singing clearly different songs. And there are roughly 4500 different song birds, species of song birds in the world, and these songbirds are renowned for their song learning ability. I would say most of these 4500 species have these kinds of dialects.

14:39 EA-What is the song of the white crowned sparrow?

14:43 DK-song of the white crowned sparrow begins with a couple of nice, pure whistles, and then a couple of what we call the double notes and then a series of repeated notes and often ending with a low note. I wish I could whistle it for you, imitate it for you, but there's a wonderful track on the CD from my book where you could listen to the clear dialect and then the buzzy dialect and then each one of those slowed down to half speed, so that when we enter the perceptual world of the birds, and I think that's the key, we have to slow the songs down to enter the perceptual songs of the birds, then we start to hear the details that they can hear. That buzzy dialect has a couple of buzzy notes right in the middle of the song.

15:30 EA-so its not the dah, dah, da da, that's the something else then.

15:36 DK-oh, that's a close relative.

15:38 EA-is that the golden crown, is that what it is?

15:40 DK-that might be the white throated sparrow but I don't think you have the white throated sparrow in the far west, so more likely it would be the golden crowned sparrow.

15:53 EA-Now on the CD that comes with your book, (talks about Jack listening to it) is there a differentiation so I can use two or at least a couple of different tracks

16:15 DK-Oh yes, for the white crowned sparrow there is one track that has one track of the clear, one song of the buzzy at normal speed and then each of those songs slowed down to 1 half speed, so its all laid out right there on that track of the CD

16:33 EA-great. Asks about songbird physiology and singing?

16:46 DK-Birds do us one better. We have one voice box, at the top of our trachea or windpipe, but if we follow our windpipe down, there is a bronchus that goes to the left and to the right lung. And at the top of that bronchus, at the top of each bronchus for these birds, there is another voice box, and they can control each one of those voice boxes independently. And when you look at the musical scores, the sonograms, you can see the effects of these two voices and they are usually just exquisitely co-ordinated.

17:23 EA-do you ever listen or look and think there is something more going on here, I mean these birds are capable of so much more in terms of vocalization than we are, do you ever kinda just go, whoa, this is just kinda beyond me.

17:40 DK-It is beyond us and people who have no science training would say, they must be singing just for joy, they're improvising, they're just having a lot of fun and they're creating these beautiful melodies. And then the humbug scientist steps in and says, wait a minute, it must be what the female is demanding of the male, we think that the female chooses males to a large extent based on their songs, so whatever they're singing, we can think of the male of being the performer, but the female, by demanding certain songs of the male, she's actually the silent composer of this entire orchestra.

18:26 EA-lets talk about your trips across the country, can you tell me about these trips?

18:30 DK-Oh, how long do you have? I don't know where to begin?

18:45 EA-What prompted the first one?

18:49 DK-I walked into a bicycle store, in Amherst Mass. One day and I said to John the owner, sometime I would like to do a longer bike ride than just around these local hills. And I think John knew what I needed to hear at that point. He looked me in the eye and smiled and said you know, every day you don't do it is less likely you ever will, and that was profound, profoundly simple but profound, and the next year I found myself in Colorado and the following year Utah and the year after that I realized, I've got to do this whole country and what better way is it to hear the birds tell their stories, for a third of a century I've been studying birds like so few people have had the privileged to do, and now let me just go listen and celebrate everything that I've learned by listening to the birds tell their stories across the grand sweep of this entire continent.

19:45 EA-and I guess the best way to do that would be on a bike because anything else would make too much noise.

19:50 DK-there is no better way to hear a continent sing than by bicycle. You're going slowly enough, and I love the up hills. Give me a steep uphill where I'm going so slowly that I hear everything, there is no wind whistling in my ears, and just to hear the birds, to the left and to the right, nothing like starting to bicycle 2 hours before sunlight and let the sunlight sweep from east to west over you and you hear the whole dawn chorus come and go, its just a marvelous way to hear, to hear the world.

20:28 EA-ask about water, tech talk

21:06 EA-So, as you are riding, are you listening for birds, I mean, are you consciously listening for birds, I mean your riding in the early morning or your riding through places that you know there are going to be birds or.

21:19 DK-I'm always listening when I'm riding, and in fact if it's a time of day when the birds aren't singing, or a time of year when the birds aren't singing, I find the riding so much less satisfactory. It is just so wonderful to ride through the lives of these birds and eavesdrop on them and hear them go about their daily lives but to know what they're up to, you can read the minds of these birds if you simply listen, you know which song is coming next, or which does not come next, riding a bike is just a great way to hear the birds.

21:53 EA-are you hearing subtle changes as you ride, in terms of what you've studied?

22:00 DK-Its extraordinary what little stories you hear. Chipping sparrows for example. The male has one song, and you ride along, and you listen to the chipping sparrows, and every once in a while you hear two males with identical songs. Now chipping sparrows are different from white crowned sparrows because there is so much diversity. There are about 30 different songs in any good chipping sparrow population. But when you hear 2 males that have identical songs, you know that there's a special relationship between them. You know that there's a young bird that's learned the song from the older bird, so literally, I mean, when I hear the birds singing, there's so much you can hear and they literally are telling stories about their life, about what's going on currently in their life, their relationships with other birds around them, they're literally telling their stories as you listen.

22:54 EA-you know that they're connected
22:56 DK-you know they're connected, you know if a male warbler is singing his male to male song or his male to female song, you listen to how energetically he sings, is he throwing notes in between, you can, its like crawling inside the skins of these other beings that travel with us on this planet, I've come to think of them as, I mean everyone of these beings is every bit as much of a success as we are. They can each claim that they've had 2 parents and 4 grandparents and a successful lineage traced all the way back in evolutionary time until we human had a common ancestor with them until we both go back to the primordial ooze. So I think of them as being equals, equal but different. I have some skills they don't have, they have a whole lot of skills that I don't have. So we're different.

23:50 EA-Rural roads?

24:04 DK-the quiet back roads are just wonderful, and there is a wonderful organization called adventure cycling they lay out these back road routes across the country, so we took what's called the trans American trail, its trail that was laid out in 1976 for the bicentennial of our country, and ever since that 1976 initiation for this trail, hundreds, thousands of people have traveled this particular route and it is wonderful because you are on the back roads and you cross major highways every once in a while and you ask yourself, where is everybody going in such a hurry.

24:48 EA-you know, you're meeting bird lovers along the way, aren't you?

24:50 DK-Everybody, it turns out, is a bird lover. I never encountered anybody along the road who was not interested in birds. And we would meet fellow bikers, you would always stop and talk to a fellow biker, and you'd team up and you'd ride together and you'd listen together, I listened in a little different way than they did, but everybody loves birds and the people I would meet along the way I would stop to talk to them and enthuse about birds and I'd also simultaneously be enthusing about that person's local dialect and how they fit into the local scheme of human dialects, especially biking across Appalachia.

25:33 EA-is it some kind of affirmation for you for a lifetime spent listening to birds that there are non scientific folks out there that love it just as much?

25:40 DK-yes, I think so. And what I feel my mission is now that I've spent all these years studying song, my mission is to try to educate people to listen in a different way. Some of my friends and many birders go on what they call a big day and on such a big day they race from one species to the next to see how big of a list they can they can to see how big of a list they can make, to see how many birds they can see in one day. But I say, ooohh that's, slow down, slow down, spend all day with one individual, crawl inside that birds skin and I think life becomes so much richer for it.

26:28 EA-asks about peoples dialects. Is sort of another aspect of your research, comparing the human speaking voice and birdsong I mean it seems like your equally as enthralled with dialect of humans as well.

26:51 DK-I am enthralled with the dialects of humans. I wish I knew so much more about them, in some of the simple reading that I've done I think that there are many of the same factors involved in maintaining these dialects, we have birds or people stay in one dialect for much of their life, humans have started to move around a lot more though so that has complicated some matters. But when you go to Appalachia and you listen to the dialects, these local dialects, it is because these people in these remote areas are relatively isolated. And that's the same reason that dialects exist in the birds too, these dialects are relatively isolated from each other.

27:33 EA-Are we not nearly as complex?

27:38 DK-IN what way do you mean that?

27:41 EA-I guess I mean um when you slow down some of the birds that you've recorded its absolutely amazing, it almost sounds like a Philip glass symphony. If you slow down the drawl of Mr. Bailey or some of the people you recorded in Kentucky or Virginia, would it be as complex?

28:05 DK-I think we humans live in our world and the birds live in their world. And I think its hard to demonstrate this scientifically, but when we look at the tiny little details in the songs of these birds and realize that they have to be able to hear these details in order to learn these songs from one another, I think their perceptual world is just very different. If we slow their songs down to maybe one fifth or to one fifth normal speed or even slower, I think that's when we enter the perceptual world of these birds and then we are starting to hear the details that they themselves can hear. But our human voice, why our human voice is at a speed that we can comprehend, uh, and so, it's as complex as it has to be to get the job done, I guess I would say.

28:55 EA-asks about listening differently to human voices

29:04 DK-Oh yes, I've listened to human voices far more carefully. And I now feel comfortable to stop and say, oh, I love the way you talk, I love that little twang in that last couple of words there, can you tell me where you grew up can you tell me where you've traveled and and the journeys that people have taken and where they pick up these different words are fascinating. And listening in Appalachia too, oh, my friend Ronald Bailey there, he is bilingual I'm convinced, to me he talked fairly, English, so that I could understand it, it was very considerate of him, but when he was talking to his friends in the area, he was using the local color, the local dialect and I would say he's as bilingual as those who speak Spanish and a good English.

29:58 EA-So where do you go now in terms of your research?
30:03 DK-I've done research for 30 some years and I love that kind of research. But I see that, its far more important for me to take what I have learned and try to educate the thousands upon thousands of people who are interested in birds, the average lay person, the book that I recently, that recently came out, is for the average person who is fascinated with this, with the natural world for example. And so I will be doing research of my own style but it will not be of the thorough kind of number crunching, money attracting research that my colleagues, my former colleagues have to do. No, I am more interested in asking little questions, finding little answers, and satisfying these little curiosities that arise each day.

30:54 EA-have you heard all the birds you want to hear in terms of different types? Or are you just much more interested in hearing the differences between sparrows or wrens, for example?

31:10 DK-I would love to travel to more distant places and to hear more birds, but I find it, more birds of different kinds that is, but I find it equally satisfying to listen to my local birds, to listen to who is doing what, listen to how they're going about their life, and so bicycling across the country, was just a precious experience, birds that I know, some that I knew so well, and now I find myself simply wanting to repeat that trip, to hear the same birds, to see what new things might be going on in the same places, with some of the same birds.

31:50 water. EA-I want you to tell me about the trip that I've heard the recordings from.

32:11 DK-Just last year in 2004 we repeated the first third of the trip we had taken all the way across the country in 2003. so with 2 friends and I, we started in Virginia and we took turns driving the car and bicycling, and worked our way through the month of may all the way to the Mississippi, listening to birds, we worked our way across Virginia, and Kentucky and southern Illinois in the month of May. Why, some bicyclists start on the west coast, and come east, but they experience Illinois Kentucky and Virginia in July and August when well most people quickly think of humidity and heat, but oh, there are no birds singing at that time of the year. So you really need to start on the east coast and go west.

32:55 EA-there was a real difference by the time you got to Illinois in the way people spoke, that really hit me, was there the same in birds?

33:10 DK-The songs of birds changed just as much as the songs of the people. Some of these birds though have such large repertoires, like a cardinal, it might have a dozen different songs, so you really have to know all dozen from one area before being able to appreciate that all the songs in the next area are different. But there were some birds that had just one song a piece, like that white crowned sparrow, and when the birds have just one song, then you can listen to all the birds in one area, and concentrate in the next area, and you hear these striking changes. One of the most notable examples was the Dixthistle we encountered in central Kentucky and every field the birds seemed to be singing different songs.

33:57 EA-Can you remember any of the people that you, that were most striking to you along the way?

34:03 DK-Oh, I love some of these people, they become instant friends for life, you stop and talk, and talk about birds and I have standing invitations to come back. I remember Billy Ray Smith, for example, except he wouldn't say Smith, it would be two syllable Smith, Smee-th, oh just wonderful voices. And then there's Ronald Bailey and Terry Owens and James R Love the retired minister, so many, and oh, Mary Lou Napier, a hillbilly she describes herself as, and what a wonderful thing to be.

34:40 EA-Terry Owens seemed to know quite a bit about birds, actually. A lot of these people did.

34:47 DK-A lot of these people knew a lot about birds. And these were people I found out in the country walking their dogs, not living in the cities. And this was one of the major points of uh Mary Lou Napier, I'm a hillbilly from Kentucky and that's just fine, you may live in the city but you've got lots of pigeons pooping on you but you don't have what we have here. To hear her talk about the birds and her life and sitting at the campfire in the campground, uh, its uh, an envious, enviable life.

35:20 EA-What's your hope, with this book and with all your research that you've done over the last 30 years.

35:28 DK-my hope is that people and dare I say millions of people will listen to the world in a new way? And that listening will lead to a love of this natural world which inevitably then leads to conservation. If I can get people to listen the way I think they are ready to listen. And the feedback that I get is just wonderful. I tell people, come with me, lets listen to a robin. For the first time, truly listen to a robin. Not just label it, not just say that is a robin singing, but truly listen, its amazing what they start to hear, and the email and the feedback that I get and the emails and the feedback that I get, and the mother who's reading this book to a 7 and 9 year old and saying what a family treasure that has come, or the 1st grade class that has invited me or the k-12 teachers who say, you must develop this for our students. If I can get people started listening, if I had 10 minutes with each of ten people in Washington dc and could slip that headphone on their head and could point that powerful microphone at a singing bird, I think I could change history.

36:48 EA Are we loosing birdsong at all? (talks more about conservation)

37:03 DK-We are loosing birdsong, there is no doubt about it, many species are declining, uh, somewhat rapidly, just last night I went to a talk about albatrosses, and the decline of these albatross colonies and its due to fishing practices with albatrosses being caught on fishing lines and just blatantly killed or drowned. We loose habitat. As we loose habitat we loose birds. Because birds have territories of a certain size, these territories cannot be compressed, if we're removed several acres of habitat we're removing several acres where birds could've lived, and species are declining in very serious numbers.

37:48 EA-So for example if we had lost the IBW, would we loose a specific song?

37:57 DK-If we had not IBW we would not hear that double rap, that bam-bam of the bill on the trunk, we wouldn't hear those nasal notes that sound like a nuthatch. And some people might say well, no big deal, but to me as we loose the players in this orchestra one by one, it's a sadder world that we live in.

38:24 EA-What's one of your most favorite birds to listen to?

38:26 DK-Wow. Do I have a favorite bird to listen to

38:30 EA-One of. I didn't ask you what is the.

38:35 DK-I think I would have to choose the thrushes, they are world favorites, they occur all over the world, the ones we have here in North America, the Hermit Thrush, the Wood Thrush, the Swainson's Thrush, we hear so much music when we listen to them, yet we're hearing only part of the music too, if we slow those songs down to how the birds actually hear them, then we hear even more extraordinary music. My favorite, I think, would have to be the wood thrush where the bird uses these two voices, he uses the left and the right voice box independently and when you slow them down you hear how he co-ordinates them, it is, you have to ask, why does he sing like this? But the real question is, why does Mrs. Wood Thrush demand it of him, what does she hear in these songs from the male, why does she choose that particular male, and you have to realize that each male is a success story, each male that is singing is a success because his mother chose his father his father in some way was singing the right stuff. So every male is a success story of an unbroken chain of successes of mothers choosing males to father their offspring.

39:57 EA-And we know, do we not from research that birds do hear differently.

40:00 DK-Birds do hear differently. I have a friend who takes birds into the lab and trains them to respond in different ways to try to tease apart how well these birds hear compared to us. And for years he was saying he couldn't really detect much of a difference, that we could hear as well as the birds. Lately though he's come around to saying well maybe birds hear about 4 times better. He did some new experiments in different ways. But I guess for me the most convincing argument is to look at the details of these songs that the birds are imitating from each other, when we listen to these songs, there's just a blur to our ears, it's a buzzy sound, but you slow it down and you see those intricate little details and you see those same intricate details in the songs of neighboring birds and other birds within that dialect, you know they're hearing those little details.

40:55 EA-they must be able to differentiate those little details in order to make the same sounds themselves.

41:01 DK-somehow they are doing it. Somehow they are hearing those little details, memorizing them, because learning to sing is really a 2 stage process. Memorizing the details of those songs and then singing them, and listening to themselves as they sing, comparing what they sing just like we babble or we practice a new word, we're comparing what we're saying with what we're hearing and comparing that to what's up there in the brain.

41:42 EA in a much more rudimentary way that's what we do when we pick up dialects ourselves, (goes on)

41:44 DK-Yes, we have a little memory of what that sound is like and we try to say it in the same way that memory guides us, and if the memory says no that's not quite right then we try it again and that's the whole process of learning that the birds go through too when they learn to sing.

42:05 EA-Now you're preparing to go on another trip.

42:11 DK-I am. I think every May and June should be spent out some special place listening to birdsong. This year I cant wait to hit the road and I want to travel from the Mississippi to the Pacific, I want to capture high quality recordings for the 2nd 2/3s of this bicycle trip that we took in 2003 because I have to get those good quality sounds to go with the narrative that I will be putting together for this entire trip.

42:35 EA-What are you specifically or if anything what are you hoping to hear.

42:45 DK-I am hoping to hear individuals doing wonderful things. I'm hoping to start at the Mississippi, and I remember, when we crossed the Mississippi, my son David said when we got across the bridge, what is that? And it was a red winged blackbird, it was using the dialect of the west side of the Mississippi and they were so different from the calls that we had heard from birds on the east side of the Mississippi. So my first stop is to go to the Mississippi River, I want to get high quality recordings of red winged blackbirds, these, the most common of birds in North America, red winged blackbirds from the 2 sides of the Mississippi, just so that I can document what we heard as we bicycled through that dialect 2 years ago.

43:32 EA-Huh. What a wonderful sound they make, I mean they have a beautiful song, and you are saying they are different on each side of the river?

43:49 DK-Oh they are, you can listen to red winged blackbirds at so many different levels, there are the females making all their noises, there are the males doing all this singing, but on top of the singing, the males have maybe 10 different calls, and how the males use these calls all the birds, all the males within a population have the same calls, so these are the same little call dialects. But you go from one place to another and the dialects are different, and that Mississippi River was enough of a barrier that the calls used on the opposite sides were just dramatically different.

44:15 EA-I mean so much so that a neophyte like me could really tell the difference?

44:20 DK-Any neophyte could tell the difference, my son, my son was learning a lot about bird song, so a month into the trip by the time we hit the Mississippi he was pretty sharp, but he was not prepared for the difference in those red winged black bird calls. And they were so strikingly different that it blew him off his bike.

EA 44:42 - asks about people he met and their bird knowledge

44:59 DK-People I visited with last summer were really extraordinary people, and they did know what was going on around them, and these were rural areas in Virginia and Kentucky, these are people who spend time outside, I don't recall seeing anyone hiking or jogging with headphones on for example, listening to human music. Walking their dog, listening to what's going around, sometimes these people did not even know the common names of what they were listening to, but they were listening, you could tell. You would ask them and their answers were surprising.

45:37 EA-mentions a specific woman

45:43 DK-And she said, listen, just listen, and she was hearing all kinds of things going on, and she might have known that it was a pilleated woodpecker making that noise across the river but she heard it and pointed it out. Yeah, she knew what was going on.

46:01 EA-asks about big days, and hearing birds as an ID

46:26 DK-Yes, you're right. When people do a big day, they're trying to id as many species as they can, and because all these species have different kinds of sounds, we can identify species just based on their song, and I would say that's wonderful. Its is so satisfying to know what is making the sound. But then I start to play with people. I say well wait a minute. What if instead of trying to identify, you tried to identify with this bird. Now what would you do? You'd slow down, and a talk I gave just a couple of days ago, I knew there were a couple of big day people in the audience, they just love to race from one place to another and I heard them talking afterwards, and they were saying, we should slow down a little.

47:16 EA-Well, maybe you will do some good after all Don Kroodsma.

47:19 DK-Oh, I'm convinced. I have this confidence that people are ready to listen in ways that they have never listened before. They are ready to not say simply there is a robin singing. There is this wonderful Zen parable that a friend sent to me when he got a copy of my book, and he said this is what your book is all about, in case you didn't know it. And it goes something like this, what's that you said, asked the Zen master, you say you've heard hundreds of birds sing? Ahh, but have you heard the bird or the label? If you listen to the thrush and hear a thrush, you've not really heard the thrush. But if you listen to a thrush and hear a miracle, then you've heard the thrush. So its my goal for people to hear the miracle, hear the magic in birdsong, not just use the songs and the sounds of these birds to label these different birds, to say there's such and such a species and now lets rush on to the next one so we can identify that one, but to slow down, to listen to the most common of birds and latch onto it, crawl inside its skin and see what its like and to identify with that individual.

48:34 EA-Music?

48:40 DK-I love classical music, and beyond that, I love listening to human voices too, but if I have a choice of listening to anything, why, it would be bird song.

48:58 EA-You must go to bed pretty early.

49:01 DK-If I had full control over my life, I'd be in bed about 9 hours before sunrise, and that's a shifting time over the years, over the annual cycle, so that I could be up about an hour and a half before sunrise and just revel in that dawn's light as it sweeps by. And all the things that happen, it seems like every bird reaffirms its existence during that hour before sunrise. And during the singing season, during the breeding season, why, the singing is just astounding.

49:36 EA-Do we know why that is? (the dawn chorus)

49:45 DK-We have no simple answer for why birds sing so energetically before sunrise, my hunch, and the hunch of others who study it, at least my friends, think that it really has to do with the birds reasserting themselves, with the males asserting dominance hierarchies, and with the females listening, the females listening to all that is going on here, because the females are making mating decisions based on how the males in a population are singing. So that's our hunch. One can say well its too dark to look for food and therefore one might as well sing. But its too dark at midnight too. Its really I think all about impressing other individuals and trying to secure one's place in that population.

50:34 EA-after a period of darkness

50:44 DK-Yes, and I've been fasting all night long too and I'm going to do everything that you're hearing on an empty stomach and just listen to the phenomenal songs I can sing and I can outlast my neighbors and sing longs and I can overlap my neighbors and insult them in ways that everybody can hear and if I can get away with it, why I'm top bird on the block here and the mating decisions that females then make I think are based to a considerable extent to all of the singing and all of the exchanges that go on in that hour before sunrise.

51:20 EA-- Do any of the females sing?

51:24 DK-Yes, females of some species do sing, up here in N. America relatively few of the females sing, but a cardinal is a good example, a female cardinal has the same repertoire that a male does, maybe 10, 12 different songs, but she doesn't sing as often and when she does sing the songs are not usually quite as sharp, but that's probably simply because she doesn't have the same amount of male hormone coursing through he body and her voice boxes aren't quite as secure as they are for a male. But a number of species, yes, and especially in the tropics, it's a whole different world so many females sing down there, sing songs that are just as complex as the males.

52:07 EA-Don, what am I missing?

52:12 DK-you've done well.

52:37 DK-I will be out for about 30 days I think, maybe uh, a few more if I can stretch it and not have the home front clamor too much for my return.

52:50 EA-and you'll be recording pretty much every morning?

52:53 DK-Every morning that the weather is good, or maybe not so good. I take that back. Every morning. I will be out, I will be up before sunrise, and hour or two before sunrise, waiting, searching for the right place, and just capturing the sounds of these birds, as I just said before there is truly something magical about listening to song directly from a bird. You don't get the same experience when you listen to a cd that you can buy off the shelf in a store, you've got to see that bird, you've got to feel the connection, and if you have just a little bit of curiosity about you, you can get sucked into that birds life and I might end up staying a full week with one individual bird because I find him so fascinating. It's a wide open trip, I go where the birds take me.

53:46 EA-Thanks, etc. talking about western mass and Alaska.

54:55 AMBI

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