Science Research, Academy of Mt St Ursula

Birdsong - February

by Drew Panko

A good web site for information on any native birds is:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  All About Birds
Much of the song description, given below, comes from this site.

Bird Species Common to the Bronx, NY

1 - HOSP,  House Sparrow
2 - NOCA, Northern Cardinal
3 - WTSP, White-throated Sparrow
4 - BCCH, Black-capped Chickadee
5 - TUTI, Tufted Titmouse
 6 - HOFI, House Finch
 7 - CAWR, Carolina Wren
 8 - NOMO, Northern Mockingbird
 9 - BLJA, Blue Jay
10 - AMCR, American Crow
11 - AMRO, American Robin
1.  House sparrow - very common resident, loves bushes near buildings -
  • Song is a series of cheeps. 
  • Calls a slightly metallic "cheep, chirrup."   
  • Also a very rapid series of cheeps in aggressive interactions with other House sparrows. 
  • Song becomes common in February.
2.  Northern Cardinal - common resident, likes residential area with vegetation, bushes with berries.  Only recently, during 1940's, has this species moved north into our area.  Many think that this species is now common because of the growth of the suburbs and the typical plantings and bird feeders.
  • Song is a series of clear whistles, the first (usually 3) down-slurred, and ending in a slow trill. "Cheer, cheer, cheer, what, what, what, what." (The series of "whats" is often given rapidly.) 

  • Call a sharp "chip."  Calls are often given between males and females staying in contactÂ…"contact calls". 

  • One of the first birds to sing in the morning, and to move around chipping loudly at sundown. 

  • It will also give a rapid series of chips (warning to other cardinal family members?) when people approach. 

  • First songs usually heard on sunny mornings in February.

3.  White-throated sparrow - common winter resident, breeds in the Catskills and north. 
  • Song is a slow series of usually five clear whistles that changes pitch once, on either the second or third note
  • Often described as "Old Sam Peabody" or "Oh Sweet Canada." 
  • Its call note is a distinctive "tseep."  (I (DP) do not think it is as distinctive as other species.) 
  • Sings when it first arrives (in October), picks up again on sunny mornings in February, reaches a peak just before they leave for their breeding grounds in April.
4.  Black-capped Chickadee - common resident. 
  • Song (love song): two or three notes whistled, with first higher in pitch, "fee-bee-ee." 
  • Call: suggests name "chick-a-dee-dee." And a variety of other calls; chick-a-dee, and dee-dee-dee and tslick-dee. 
  • This species makes lots of calls all year, the love song is first heard on sunny mornings in spring, and last heard during the summer.
5.  Tufted Titmouse - common resident, but another recent arrival (like the Cardinal) to our area.  Strangely this species is still absent along the coast. 
  • Song is a loud, whistled "peter, peter, peter, peter."  
  • Call a scratchy, chickadee-like "tsee-day-day-day."
  • Also gives many fussy, scolding and very high pitched notes.
6.  House Finch - common resident.  This bird is native to the west coast of North America.  About two dozen were brought to local pet stores.  When the shop keepers were notified that it was illegal to keep native species, they just opened the cages and released them in our area.  Their populations exploded throughout the Northeast during the 40's to 90's.  In the 90's the genetically undiversified populations in the east were hard hit by a bacterial infection.  They are recovering well now and do well in the suburbs.  They range now from Florida to Nova Scotia and west beyond Chicago.  All resulting from a few dozen released in New York City. 
  • Song is a hoarse warble that goes up and down rapidly.  
  • Call note a sharp "cheep."  It is a challenge to distinguish the "cheeps" of the House Finch from the "cheeps" of the House sparrow.
7.  Carolina Wren - common resident.  This is a new common resident.  Even as little as 10 years ago, you could not count on hearing one even if you visited the proper habitat 10 times a year.  This species may be a winner in our area due to global warming.  It does not survive well in harsh winters.  It seems to have survived the last 10 relatively warm winters with little or no crash in population, allowing a gradual growth in population.  It likes suburbia, but needs a little more wooded setting then the house sparrow or house finch. 
  • Song a loud, repeated series of several whistled notes: "tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle." 
  • Calls include a loud chatter and a rising and falling "cheer."  This last call is often given before a singing bout. 
  • Can be heard singing every month of the year, (may defend winter territory by singing) but picks up singing in February and March. 
  • It likes to nest in weird (to us) places near houses. 
8.  Northern Mockingbird - common resident.  This is also a relatively new resident of our area.  Populations became established back in the 1940's, (again!), and may be another beneficiary of burgeoning suburbia. 
  • Song is a series of varied phrases, with each phrase repeated 3 or more times in a row.
  • It often includes much mimicry of other bird songs and calls.  Once you know your bird song you can sit and listen to a Mockingbird and identify each bird it is imitating.   
  • Call a harsh dry "chew." 
  • Often defends a winter territory different from breeding territory. 
  • Really likes a patch of rose bushes, full of rose hips (berries) for a winter territory.  Woe to a single Robin, hermit thrush or Waxwing that stops by and tries to steal a few of its berries.  But the Mocker can be overwhelmed by a flock of Robins or Waxwings that settle in to strip every berry from its berry patch.  More than once I've seen a Mocker put up a valiant battle for an hour or two, then see that it is a losing proposition, and retire to a sheltered location to sit and sulk over the loss of hundreds of berries that it had been guarding carefully for months.
9.  Blue Jay - common resident, but may leave the area in winters when the acorn crop fails, as in the winter of 2004-2005. 
  • Bird is currently uncommon in the woods, much more common in human impacted environments with feeders or other human dispersed food sources. 
  • Very vocal; make a large variety of calls. Most frequent call is a harsh "jeer" or "Jay." 
  • Also clear whistled notes and gurgling sounds. 
  • Will often imitate calls from hawks. 
  • Rather social and group of these Jays can make quite a racket!  Young from previous years assist parents with new babies.
10.  American Crow - common resident.  But not as common as it was 10 years ago.  It has been heavily impacted by the West Nile Virus, and the new regulations closing the open dumping of human garbage. 
  • Common call is a harsh "caw."
  • Also a variety of rattles, coos, and clear notes. 
  • A very intelligent and social bird.  Many of its calls are communications to other crows in the neighborhood. 
  • It will form large winter roosts with thousands of crows. 
  • It will form impromptu groups to harass owls or hawks in their neighborhoods. 
  • Sometimes forms large noisy groups for no apparent reason.
11.  American Robin - common resident - summer and winter. 
  • The classic "first Robin of spring" does not really exist.  Robins over-winter in our area almost every year - mostly males, with most females migrating south.  
  • In winter, Robins do not frequent the open lawns looking for worms (or they would starve to death).   They often form sizable flocks, roost in wetlands, and forage as a group in search of  fruits or berries, and then move on. 
  • Song a musical whistled phrase, "cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up." 
  • Call note a sharp "chup," often given in rapid series when disturbed. 
  • Also a very high-pitched thin whistling note.  Funny, I (DP) do not recall this high-pitched whistling note, I will have to listen for itÂ…even I am not too old to hear new things, yet!