Sunday, March 13, 2011

Poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody

The white-throated sparrows will be singing soon!

Po-or Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody...
Po-or Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody...

Birdwatchers make mnemonics to help them remember bird songs, mnemonics that mimic the cadence and count the syllables of bird songs. So black-capped chickadees seem to say chickadee-dee-dee chickadee-dee-dee. Brown thrashers sound like they are saying drop it, drop it, pick it up, pick it up. And chestnut-sided warblers politely repeat pleased pleased pleased to meet cha!

The white-throated sparrows that have quietly spent the winter scratching in the underbrush (and visiting my Brooklyn porch for seeds) are about to start singing. Although I see white-throated sparrows year round in New York City, they only come to my porch in winter; apparently it is a seasonal resort. (White-throated sparrows were featured in an earlier blog, here.)

White-throated sparrows sing Po-or Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody, though some think it is more like O-old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody. And when you are listen north of the U.S. border they seem to say Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada. The song is whistled, loud, and noticeable: a long note, a lower note, a third even lower note repeated in two or three sets of three.

People come up to me and whistle this song, wondering what kind of bird they heard. Rachel Maddow even recorded it on her Blackberry while walking in the woods last year and played it on her news show, seeking identification. It is that kind of sound. It stands out.

The next sentence links to a nice YouTube video of a white-throated sparrow singing; click it to hear the song. When you hear this outside, spring has arrived! 


  1. I usually laugh at the mnemonics listed for birds, but the past 2 mornings I have heard Peabody, so I looked it up. We saw the white-throated sparrow at the feeder 2 days ago but thought there was only one and he had moved on.
    Great to imagine you in Central Park this morning. Thanks for great blog.
    The Harris sparrow comes here during winter. In April it sings the first few notes of the alphabet song, like a toddler learning the alphabet. Wish you would hear it!

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