Not only tropical birds duet with their mate, if you listen closely you can hear some of our local birds duetting, too. Or at least you may notice that female songbirds are not as silent as we often assume. Carolina Wrens Thryothorus ludovicianus and Northern Cardinals Cardinalis cardinalis are two species in which the female often joins her mate’s songs.
Listen to this excerpt of many hours of recordings of one pair of Carolina Wrens captured by Barbara Simpson in the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill on November 3, 1981 (BLB43057):
The female does not respond with the typical male-like “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” song, but with a buzzy, rather high-pitched trill. The coordination is not as precise as in the neotropical wrens, rather in many cases the female overlaps the song of her mate. Still she communicates her presence on the territory to any listeners in the neighborhood, be it male or female Carolina Wrens.
Note the fainter song of another male Carolina Wren in-between the focal male’s songs.
Can you hear when the male switches to a different song type (not shown in spectrogram)?
You may say that maybe a better example of a duetting species in our area is the Northern Cardinal.
In this common backyard species the female has a song as elaborate as that of her mate and she is often accompanied by her mate’s song. A female Northern Cardinal is easily distinguished from the male by her more subtle, brown plumage, allowing us to tell the sexes apart and notice whether a male or female is singing (In the monomorphic Carolina Wren we would have to color-mark the female to be sure that she does not also sing like her mate). Take a close look at the next Northern Cardinal that sings in your backyard, it may be a female. They are just as virtuous as the males of this species:
Familiarize yourself with the song of the female and male Northern Cardinal in the duet above.
Rich Bradley recorded this pair of Northern Cardinal at the Delaware Wildlife Area on April 13, 1994 (BLB41331).
I challenge you to get outside early one morning (Sunrise in the Columbus area is around 7:30am, so depending on cloud cover birds may start singing just after 7am). Listen to the dawn chorus of birds in your neighborhood, find your closest Northern Cardinal and listen to his song – or is it a female you are listening to? If you record the song on your phone, share the recording with us!
All bird photos by Richard A Bradley – thank you Rich!
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