What bird is this?

The other week my Twitter friend Cindy Bahl sent me a recording of this bird, which she’d heard in Kansas City, Missouri earlier in June. It sounds rather like someone doing something to a piece of sheet metal with a machine that’s painfully in need of lubrication. Can anyone identify the bird?

Here it is, with some background sounds edited out.

Lately I’ve been listening to slowed-down versions of birdsong and bird calls. The result is sometimes much more complex and musical than one would expect. Skylarks, for example, structure their song in a way that sounds very similar to human music. An unpromising chirp can turn into something startlingly beautiful.

So of course, I wanted to try that with this recording and see what I got. Here it is again, slowed down in one-octave steps. (To avoid very long almost-silences, I’ve cut more of the gap between calls each time. So there’ll be inconsistencies if you try to follow what the other birds are doing.)

(The downloadable versions are MP3s, with a total size of 2.4 MB.)

There’s certainly added complexity. The bird is singing a fast and consistent sequence of notes. In the final version, three octaves below their original pitch, they sound a bit as though they’re being played on a pipe organ.

At a sixteenth of the original speed, this becomes a sequence of foghorn or ship’s hooter notes. But it also becomes very murky to listen to, so I haven’t included it.

As for beauty, maybe that’s in the ear of the beholder . . .

If you’ve any idea what the bird is, please leave a comment below.

4 responses to “What bird is this?

  1. Hi Tim–it’s Kirin, whom you know from Twitter. Is that a photo of the mystery bird, too?
    I wonder what the bird hears of her/his call, specifically whether the bird hears all the complexity that your slower speed plays reveal.

    • Ha, no, it’s a sparrow on my window feeder before the pigeons destroyed it! The Soundcloud player insists on displaying an image unless I pay to remove it, and it’s easiest just to let it use my profile photo.

      I’ve wondered that about bird calls and songs, too. Human speech is very complex but we’re usually just aware of the words, not tiny phonetic details . . .

      Listen to these skylarks though, which I’ll put in a proper post soon. (That one’s a tryout on my test blog.) Each chirp is structured almost like human music.

      Thanks for visiting and for leaving a comment—blogs are friendlier places when people do that. 🙂

  2. Tim,
    Thanks for posting my recording of the odd bird. I downloaded an excellent app for identifying bird sounds and its best guess is that this is a bluejay.
    Just an FYI on the website / app I used (which has a database for not only USA birds but also birds around the world), it is the eBird website and app from Cornell University. Totally free. It can identify a bird by either sound or by photo. For sound, it can identify by using a recording or a ‘live’ sound. The whole thing is absolutely amazing.
    Here is their website: https://ebird.org/home
    To download their Apple iOS app: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/ebird/id988799279
    To download their Google Play app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=edu.cornell.birds.ebird&hl=en_US&gl=US

  3. Meant to include this link! And I’m not sure what the Google Play equivalent one is but I’m sure they have one as well….
    Here is the app for Merlin Bird ID which is also by Cornell and goes hand in hand with the other app I provided: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/merlin-bird-id-by-cornell-lab/id773457673

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