A studio for bird study

Tag: song

Singing Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella breweri) on Sagebrush

by Bryce W. Robinson


Singing Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella brewer) on sagebrush. Gouache on watercolor paper.

One of the best parts of spring in the Sagebrush landscape of western North America are it’s singing inhabitants. The Brewer’s Sparrow may be my favorite, because of its subdued but beautiful plumage and distinct trill song. On a spring morning at sunrise, one can walk through a healthy stand of sagebrush, songs erupting all around, as multiple males sing atop their sagebrush posts.

Brewer’s Sparrows have a distinct buzzing song, that sounds superficially simple and distinct. But, their songs can be variable and have multiple types as described in Rich (2002). See the figure below to gain a familiarity with the variability.


Song types of the Brewer’s Sparrow, long (A) and short (B). Figure taken from Birds of North America Online, adapted from Rich (2002). 

Rich (2002) found that the variability seen above seems to follow no geographic trend or isolation, nor does there seem to be any song sharing among neighbors. High turnover among territories and potential for natal dispersal could limit the development of local dialects, etc. Interesting stuff…

If you’re unfamiliar with the sound of a singing Brewer’s Sparrow, be sure to visit Xeno-Canto and explore.

My friend Eli is wrapping up some research investigating the impacts of anthropogenic noise on sagebrush inhabitants in southwest Idaho. Breeding Brewer’s Sparrows were among a few focal species of her study. She’s currently working through the publication process, and when her work comes to surface in print, I’ll be sure to share. I expect that anthropogenic noise has some masking impacts on a Brewer’s Sparrow song, and in turn could potentially change the dynamics of song structure under anthropogenic noise blankets, etc. More research and time will tell.

Here is a short clip of a singing Brewer’s Sparrow in Idaho that I took through my Zeiss scope. The song is barely audible because of how distant I was from the singing bird:

Referenced Literature:

Rich, T. D. 2002. The short song of Brewer’s Sparrow: individual and geographic variation in southern Idaho. Western North American Naturalist 62(3): 288-299.


Singing American Tree Sparrow

by Bryce W. Robinson

I’ve made it a goal to get footage of as many singing birds in western Alaska as possible. I made out one morning in early May to film what was around. Not many birds are in Alaska in early May, but tree sparrows are the early birds in preparing for the breeding season, busy setting up territories. This bird was tirelessly singing, chasing away intruders, and conducting himself in the way any sparrow should in order to be a successful breeder. I took advantage of his focus and took this recording using my Zeiss Diascope.

Study What is Common

by Bryce W. Robinson


Song Sparrow- Melospiza melodia.

Study what is common. I’ve heard this piece of advice many times, and I think it is one of the most important keys to becoming a better birder. I’m a relatively inexperienced birder, and I’ve been seeing a lot of progress in my birding in the last year. I believe my growth has come solely on my conscious decision to stop and study every bird I see, even those that are around me everyday.

I see the Song Sparrow- Melospiza melodia, daily. I know the bird well, but I still seem to learn something every time I’m watching and listening to them. The more you watch, the more you notice, and there is so much satisfaction in that discovery.

The Song Sparrow flocks I have been around lately have been very diverse in plumage. The diversity in plumage is a function of their different subspecies. I’d like to learn the appearance of each subspecies, so that I can better understand where the individuals I interact with during the winter breed. I’ve done so with the Dark-eyed Junco, and I really enjoy seeing mixed flocks of individuals from completely separate populations. Some of the most satisfying moments in my birding lately have been finding birds that are out of their expected range, and having the background knowledge to understand how far out of the way they’ve wandered.