How to Understand the WTRK Audio Files

Science editor and colleague Dan Gardoqui has worked with Lang Elliot to compile a set of professional-quality field recordings of many common birds in a variety of situations that will help you unlock the secrets of the natural world. This audio collection includes many of the baseline voices of backyard birds, such as cardinal songs and chickadee calls, and life-or-death recordings of birds in the presence of imminent danger. It also includes the voices of non-avian species whose calls can be helpful in detecting sneaky predators (such as chipmunks and squirrels), as well as tricky mimics who may throw the budding bird language student a curve ball now and then.

It's important to note that many birds (including some we use as examples in the book) have "graded" vocalizations-that is, vocalizations that sound very similar but may vary in duration, intensity, pitch, intonation, or other features, but that have different purposes. While graded calls may seem to complicate the five vocalizations construct, they actually fit well within its boundaries. For example, the tut of an American robin can fall into one of three categories—companion call, aggression, or alarm—depending on the context of the vocalization, most notably volume, frequency, and duration; body language; and position of the bird. We've demarcated typically graded vocalizations with a "†" for your ease in understanding.

"Here is the ancestral wisdom passed down from Apache elder Stalking Wolf to renowned tracker Tom Brown to Jon Young himself, who in turn passes on to the reader the art of truly listening to the avian soundscape. With all senses more finely tuned, you'll find yourself more aware of your surroundings, slowing down, and reconnecting with a native intelligence and love of the natural world that lies deep within each of us."

—Donald Kroodsma,
author of The Singing Life of Birds
and Birdsong by the Seasons