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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote: Whistling Birds

Air Date: Week of

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Eastern-wood Pewee (Photo: Joanne Kamo)

Birds can squawk, trill, or chirp, and a few whistle. As Michael Stein points out, those are often the easiest ones for humans to imitate.



CURWOOD: “Whistle and I’ll come to you” may be the title of a famous ghost story by British author MR James but usually whistling is a cheerful sound, and catchy, as Michael Stein tells us in today’s BirdNote®.


Birds That Whistle

[Olive-sided Flycatcher, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/195787]

STEIN: Some of the most familiar and easy to remember birdsongs are those that sound like they could have been whistled by a human. Their quality and simplicity remind us of the sounds we can make, even with our modest human whistling apparatus.

The Olive-sided Flycatcher has one of the most distinctive and catchy songs on the continent —

— and many birders learn early on to pick out its sharply inflected three-note song, and to imitate it [Narrator’s imitation of whistle].

The Eastern Pewee has a catchy tune too…

…pretty much whistling out its name, pee-a-wee. A bit harder to imitate though -
[Narrator imitates.].

Olive-sided flycatcher (Photo: Gregg Thompson)

But it’s not only little songbirds that whistle.
[Northern Saw-whet Owl song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/130470]

This night-time whistler's a Northern Saw-whet Owl

We like to think that owls only hoot, but these sound a lot like human whistles and are easy to copy.
[Narrator copies.]

Finally, here’s a bird that whistles its heart out.
[From Bird Songs of the Pacific Northwest (Keller and Vyn; a Cornell Lab publication), Pigeon Guillemot]
These shrill notes belong to a little seabird, the Pigeon Guillemot [GILL-uh-mot], cousin to the puffins, whistling over the waves along the Pacific Coast. [Repeat Keller and Vyn recording]
I’m Michael Stein.

Pigeon Guillemot (Photo: Mike Hamilton)


Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Olive sided Flycatcher [95787] recorded by Bob McGuire; Eastern Wood-Peewee [191222] recorded by Wilbur L Hershberger; Northern Saw-whet Owl [130470] recorded by Gregory F Budney; Pigeon Guillemot recorded by Geoffrey A Keller and Gerrit Vyn, featured on the CD 'Bird Songs of the Pacific Northwest' Disk 2 Track 53, Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.
Surf sound '#23 Surf Moderate' from Nature SFX, recorded by Gordon Hempton, of QuietPlanet.com
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015/2017 Tune In to Nature.org January 2015/2017 Narrator: Michael Stein

BACALL: You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together…and blow… [SOUNDTRACK, “TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT”

[MUSIC: Ronnie Ronalde, “In a Monastery Garden” on Route 86, Albert William Ketelby, Columbia Records]

CURWOOD: And if you like it, you can whistle on over to our website for some pictures.



Listen on the BirdNote website

About the Olive-Sided Flycatcher

About the Eastern-wood Pewee

About the Northern Saw-whet Owl

About the Pigeon Guillemot


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