Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Songs of Summer and Scarlet

On June 11 and 12 I did more breeding bird surveys at Busch Memorial Conservation Area in St. Charles Co., Missouri, with my friend Kevin Renick. We didn't see the numbers of butterflies I mentioned in my previous post, but we saw and heard some great birds, including two not commonly seen: a Blue Grosbeak along the dam at Lake 37, and a brief view of a Blue-winged Warbler at the same spot.

Kevin is a singer-songwriter as well as a whiz at birding; his musical abilities extend into his nature hobby. What impressed me most this weekend was Kevin's ability to consistently tell the difference between the songs of the Scarlet Tanager and the Summer Tanager. Both birds nest here in oak-hickory forests of Missouri, and although their calls are very different, their songs are very much alike. I asked him to summarize the differences between the two songs. I'm accompanying Kevin's summary with video from the incomparable recordist of nature sounds, Lang Elliot.

Kevin's hints: "The Scarlet Tanager's song has sometimes been described as being like a 'robin with a sore throat.' It's a melodic warble, but it has a prominent screechy or raspy sound on one or two notes of its phrasing. The Summer Tanager on the other hand, is not raspy at all. It's a clear, sweet warble, a bit gentler than the Scarlet."

If you hear the bird's call—as opposed to its song—you've got it made. The Summer's call begins this video: "Picky-tucky-tuck." The Scarlet Tanager call, heard in the middle of his video, is "Chick-burrr. Chick-burrrr." David Sibley, author of The Sibley Guide to Birds, says that the Summer's song includes, "brief but distinct pauses between phrases." The Scarlet's by contrast is made up of a "fairly rapid, continuous series."

Thanks to Kevin Renick for his song analysis and to Lang Elliot for making his videos available.


  1. my gosh that is a good video. I hope you don't care if I share your link on my own blog.

  2. Naturally I'm really thrilled that you want to share my post with your readers! Thanks so much!

  3. I saw your link on Nellie's blog and I thought I would take a look. Those are great videos, great capture of their calls.

    Your beautiful Tanagers have so much red, far more than our Western Tanagers.

  4. We actually have 2 records of Western Tanager here in the St. Louis MO area, one in May of 1966 (a female at Shaw Nature Reserve and a male in August of the same year! Lang Elliot's videos are awesome.