Somebody’s in a hurry

We’re getting to that time of year.  The leaves on some of the maple trees around here are just beginning to turn.  The temperatures have been a bit cooler and more pleasant (and I really hope they continue in this way).  Clearly, I’m not the only one who is noticing these changes.  A lot of the normally noisy birds are getting much quieter.  I’m still seeing American Robins flying around, but they are doing much less song production than they used to.

One of the birds that’s doing a lot of singing, though, is the Carolina Wren.  There’s one, in particular, that’s been very busy.  He’s hanging around my neighborhood and has been very vocal about his presence.  Now Carolina Wrens have a song that’s usually described as “Teakettle teakettle teakettle.”  I’ve written about it, before.  It’s a song that does make them totally recognizable.  This little wren, though, was apparently too harried to sing the whole thing.  It sounded more like “kettle kettle kettle”.  He just dropped a whole note off his song, entirely.  It’s almost like he’s just hurrying to get the whole song out.

Given that I’ve heard another full version of the wren’s song from the same area before, there are two possible explanations for this new variant:  1.  It’s a new wren that has moved into the neighborhood.  Since it’s fall and young are dispersing, it is a possibility.  2.  It’s the same wren performing a different version of his song right now.  Also a possibility.  Wrens have quite a lot of variation in their songs, including the elimination of syllables from the songs that they perform.

Borror, D.J. 1956.  Variation in Carolina Wren songs.  Auk 73:  211-229.

Now, if you actually open up that link, there’s some lovely spectrograms (visual representations of the sounds) that show the loss of some of the syllables in these wren songs.  So back to the question:  new bird or just new song?  I don’t know.  I’ll have to keep checking in with him to see what’s going on and see how the song changes throughout the winter.  One of the benefits of shortening the song is that it is possible to get more songs performed per minute.  Important?  I don’t actually know.  In other situations, it really might be.  There does, however, seem to be some indication that male wrens are less territorially aggressive in the winter.

Hyman, J.  2005.  Seasonal variation in response to neighbors and strangers by a territorial songbird.  Ethology 111:  951-961. 


If I were to be wildly speculative, there is a third possibility that could explain the shorted, fast song of that wren:  caffeine!  Maybe he’s been getting into my coffee grounds!  Ok, that last one might be a bit far-fetched, but at least it does give you an idea of what that bird currently sounds like.


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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