Song Sparrow recordings

Inspired by Monday’s post about Margaret Morse Nice I looked up recordings of Song Sparrows in our collection. I found more than 1,600 recordings from 27 states in the USA and Canada. I was hoping to find recordings from Margaret Morse Nice’s former study area in her backyard, now Tuttle park, just north of the Lane Avenue bridge along the east side of the Olentangy river.

map of Recording locations on OSU main campus

Recording locations on OSU main campus

Instead I located a cluster of recordings in Franklin County: Don Borror, founder of our lab, recorded Song Sparrows on the OSU main campus in 1948 and 1953. [Note that these are among the earliest preserved sound recordings – the earliest existing recording in the USA is of a Song Sparrow recorded by Cornell Lab founder and pioneer in sound recording Arthur Allen in 1929.]

When we describe variation within and differences among songs, in addition to listening to recordings we often visualize sounds. We use sound analysis software to produce spectrograms that show the frequency of sound vibrations, which we perceive as pitch, over time. The darkness of the spectrogram indicates the loudness of the sound. See for yourself in this short video of one song of a Song Sparrow played in the software RAVEN, follow the moving bar while you listen – can you hear the difference among the notes?


Now listen to the variety of songs that Don Borror recorded on OSU campus and try to match them with the corresponding sonograms.   Tip: Hover your mouse over each of the spectrograms to reveal the number corresponding to the sound files below. This will help you to verify your match.

If you have enjoyed this sound matching game, I can recommend playing “Bird Song Hero“, a matching game set up by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You will not only perfect your skills in matching spectrograms to heard sound but will also learn the songs of some common garden birds. Enjoy!


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics. Her recent research has focused on song and behavioral ecology of the White-crowned Sparrow in Oregon; each spring Angelika teaches the OSU course “Ohio Birds” where students learn about the life of birds and how to identify them in the field – by sight and sound.


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.