Different songs for different places

In my last post I talked about how Carolina Chickadee songs have changed (or not) in Columbus and the surrounding areas over the past ~60 years. This post takes a different perspective on how Carolina Chickadee songs can vary: over geographic space. If you were paying close attention in the last post, you may have gotten a sense of geographic variation in song even on a scale as small as Columbus – some songs only appeared in certain areas during certain time periods.

One major component of my dissertation here at OSU has been to quantify how Carolina chickadee songs vary over their entire range, the southeastern United States, and compare this variation to geographic variation in their sister species, the Black-capped Chickadee. Despite Carolina Chickadees being very common birds, not many recordings of their songs were archived in museum collections for me to use. The Borror Lab had the most recordings, but the vast majority of those were made in Ohio.

So in spring of 2014 I embarked on an expedition to record as many Carolina Chickadees in as many different places as possible. Over 5 and a half weeks (divided into three trips), I drove about 6,000 miles through 22 states and recorded over 120 chickadees.

Sample locations during recording trip in 2014

Sample locations during recording trip in 2014

Below are samples of some of the atypical songs that I recorded on my trip. The full Carolina chickadee range is shaded in orange. All the spectrograms shown are on the same scale, so you can directly compare them to one another (the upper limit of each spectrogram image is about 10 kHz). Not included are songs or spectrograms of the typical alternating high-low-high-low Carolina chickadee song, which was also present at most sample locations.

  1. Newark, Delaware






2. Kensington, Maryland






3. Asheboro, North Carolina







4. Cartersville, Georgia






5. Camden, Alabama






6. Ajax, Louisiana






7. Meridian, Texas






8. Moyers, Oklahoma






9. Crossville, Tennessee





10. Salem, Missouri






11. Makanda, Illinois






12. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky







About the author:  Stephanie Wright Nelson is a graduate student in the department of EEOBiology. She studies song learning in chickadees and is particularly interested in the consequences of hybridization between Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees.

Living Colorless Photo Quiz

Time To Quiz Yourself

Do you remember the differences between albinism and leucism in animals? Test your knowledge by identifying the unique color trait in the seven animals below. You may want to check our previous post on “Living Colorless“. Find the correct answers to this quiz at the bottom of the page.



  1. Leucistic
  2. Leucistic
  3. Albino
  4. Leucistic
  5. Albino
  6. Albino
  7. Leucistic

Learn more about color traits in animals at our Open House, April 23, 2016.


About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is Collection Manager of the Tetrapod Collection at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Practicing local bird songs

It is still the middle of winter, but when we listen, we can hear the first signs of spring. Some of our local songbirds have started to reclaim their territories. They have started to sing loudly, particularly in the early morning hours.

Now is a good time to remind yourself of the songs of local birds and practice recognizing them. This will give you a head start when the migrating songbirds return and join the full chorus. You will then be able to pick out any unfamiliar sound. As I mentioned in Monday’s blog post, our lab has produced some CDs to help you improve your birding by ear skills and here I suggest some links to recordings in the onlilne archive. Most of these recordings were made by Don Borror at Blendon Woods Metro Park in the 1960s.

Some of our local birds may sound quite similar to each other, e.g. songs of both the Northern Cardinal and the Carolina Wren can be a series of down-slurred notes, repeated a few times. The rhythm is quite different though, listen to the slow cardinal and the quick wren.

Northern Cardinal                                                             Carolina Wren

One of my favorite winter feeder birds is the Carolina Chickadee. These tiny birds zip tirelessly in and out from your feeder. Watch them closely, because they may cache some of the sunflower seeds for later consumption. When you travel further north in Ohio (e.g. into the Cleveland area), the familiar 4-note song will change to the 2-note “Hey sweetie” of the Black-capped Chickadee, the closely-related, northern-living counterpart.

Carolina Chickadee                                                           Black-capped Chickadee

Within the family of finches, two species commonly visit our winter feeders and reside in our gardens: the brightly colored House Finch, the male with its rosy red around the face and upper breast, and the now drably colored American Goldfinch. The males of this species change into their brightly yellow and black plumage later in the year, they are in no hurry since they commonly do not start breeding until July. The songs of the two finch species are quite different but have a common, “finch-like” quality.

House Finch                                                              American Goldfinch

NOTE: Bird songs are visually represented in sonograms with frequency (analogous to perceived pitch) in Hertz on the vertical axis and time (in seconds) on the horizontal axis.

About the author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics at The Ohio State University.