SONGS AND CALLS OF CENTRAL COAST BIRDS
Compiled by Jeff N. Davis
Note: The descriptions below were originally compiled as an accompaniment to a cassette tape of recordings for students in the Natural History of Birds course at UC Santa Cruz.
[one way to hear these songs is to go to http://www.naturesongs.com/birds.html
a list of memory aides can be found on http://www.stanford.edu/~kendric/birds/birdsong.html]
Grasslands (includes annual and perennial grasslands, pastures, some agricultural lands, and weed fields, e.g., UCSC's Great Meadow and Mashall Field, north coast grasslands)
Red-tailed Hawk: Call is a husky descending scream, kee-eeee-arrr, that rises gradually then descends near the end. Sometimes described as having a "steam-whistle" quality. Usually produced by soaring birds, but is also uttered from a perch or during active flight.
American Kestrel: Call is a high-pitched , shrill ki-ki ki-ki ki-ki...
Western Kingbird: Most common note is a sharp whit, often elaborated to a liquid whit ker whit. Male opens the dawn chorus with continual twittering, a repeated kit, kit, feedle-di-di.
Say's Phoebe: Common call is a plaintive pee-ee, often given from a fence post or telephone wire. Song is a swift pit-tsee-ar, uttered repeatedly.
Horned Lark: Song is thin and unmusical, suggesting the syllables tsip, tsip, tsee-di-di. It is often given from a clod of earth but sometimes in the air during a protracted circling flight.
Loggerhead Shrike: Typical call is a harsh and hoarse tee; song is more musical but unanimated, a repeated chil-lip, che-urr, klo.
Lark Sparrow: Song is a series of trills and sweet notes interrupted by a rather unmelodious churr. I sometimes refer to this species as one of the "fart birds" because the churr is reminiscent of a bodily sound. And also a "R2D2 bird" because its discombobulated song sounds like the Star Wars character. Call is a weak tsip, relatively faint for the size of the bird.
Savannah Sparrow: Song consists of 2 or 3 preliminary chirps, followed by 2 long insect-like trills, the 2nd pitched a little lower than the 1st, tsip, tsip, tseeeeeee tseer. Typical call is a slight tsip. This species' song is often used in movie soundtracks, but is usually played inappropriately in suburban settings, not grasslands!
Grasshopper Sparrow: Song is similar to Savannah Sparrow but is composed of one long dry trill without a change of pitch at end, tsick tsick tsurrrrrrr.
Western Meadowlark: Utters a low-pitched tschuk when alarmed. Song is distinct, unforgettable, and perhaps indescribable.
Oak Woodlands (Includes coast live oak woodland , e.g., Pogonip, and oak savannah - rare in this area, e.g., Carmel Valley)
Mourning Dove: Song, sometimes mistaken for an owl's, is a low, flutey coo-ah-coo, coo, coo; second note higher. Also gives a distinctive wing-whistle when taking flight.
Barn Owl: Gives a shrill screech from a perch or in flight, and a series of squeaky notes in flight reminiscent of an un-oiled bicycle.
Western Screech-Owl: "Song" is a succession of tremulous mellow hoots, like the sound of a ball bounding more and more rapidly, usually preceded by a whorroo. Also utters a short cry, kyeek, and a series of notes reminiscent of the braying of a horse.
Great Horned Owl: "Song" is a resonant hooting of 3-8 notes. Sounds like "Who's awake? ..... me too." Males hoot lower than females.
Anna's Hummingbird: Males song is squeaky, sounds like it needs to be oiled. Feeding note is a sharp chick. Males make popping sound at bottom of pendulum display; whether it's vocal or mechanical no one knows.
Acorn Woodpecker: Gives a lively interchange of harsh calls whak-a, whak-a, whak-a whak, dying off at end. Who's calling in the background of the recording? The right answer will bring rewards (knowledge and sweets).
Northern Flicker: Songs include ouika ouika ouika, loud, sharp and ak-ak-ak; similar to Pileated Woodpecker but higher with no slowing or softening at end. Call is a single, piercing teeuw or kee-yer. Drums rather weakly.
Ash-throated Flycatcher: Calls include a long rolling prrip and chi-burr.
Western Scrub-Jay: Utters a succession of harsh cries tschek, tschek; also a ker-wheek while perched.
Oak Titmouse: Sings a lively witt-y, witt-y, witt-y, witt-y or ti-wee, ti-wee, ti-wee. Common call is a scratchy tsick-a-dee-dee or tsick-a-deer.
Bushtit: Gives gentle, high-pitched twittering notes, which become sharper and more prolonged if the birds are startled or alarmed.
White-breasted Nuthatch: Song is a series of nasal whistles on one pitch: toy toy toy. Lower, less nasal than red-breasted. Call is a low, nasal yank.
House Wren: Song is burst of bubbling, gurgling, and whistled notes, falling at end. Call is a buzzy scold.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: Song is a series of melodious but wheezy warbles. Call is a thin, querulous pwee. An "R2D2" bird.
Western Bluebird: Chiefly in flight, gives an elastic pew, pew... "Song" is a low chu, chu, chu.
Hutton's Vireo: Typical song is a monotonous and insipid zu-wee, zu-wee... or chew, chew... Notes are repeated about once per second, often in a long series. Common call is a harsh rheeeee, sometimes elaborated into a whinny or laughter-like chatter rheeee-he-he-he.
Orange-crowned Warbler: Song is a staccato trill rising in energy and inflection and falling at end. Call is a sharp stick.
Black-throated Gray Warbler: Song is buzzy and scratchy with lots of "z" notes, usually rising upward with a downward ending. e.g., weezy weezy weezy weezy-weet, last note accented.
Bullock's Oriole: Song is a harsh, lively, kip, kit-tick, kit-tick, whew, wheet. Common call is a harsh rattle.
House Finch: Common call is a coarse wheat. Song is a joyous succession of whistled notes ending generally in chwee, whurr.
Lesser Goldfinch: Song is a lively series of musical notes, more phrased, scratchier than American. Call is a plaintive tee-yee.
Riparian Woodlands (Includes willow, cottonwood, sycamore, and alder-associated woodlands, e.g., San Lorenzo, Pajaro, and Big Sur rivers; Fall, Soquel, and Aptos creeks)
Red-shouldered Hawk: Issues a high-pitched squealing tee-urr, tee-urr as it flies through willows and cottonwoods. Steller's Jays do good imitations.
Allen's Hummingbird: Gives a sharp bzee, usually in flight. Also has a characteristic wing whir distinct from Anna's Hummingbird's.
Belted Kingfisher: Gives a harsh rattling cry as it comes winging down a stream, sometimes also from a perch. Call could be confused with a woodpecker's.
Nuttall's Woodpecker: Usually considered a bird of oak woodlands, but in our area it is more typical of riparian. Call is a hoarse ringing prrip, often lengthened to a rattling prrrrrrrt. It has the exclamatory quality of the Hairy, but is less clear and metallic, with more burr.
Downy Woodpecker: Gives a sharp metallic chink, less hoarse and shorter than the prrip of the Nuttall's; its 'whinny' descends in pitch and the Nuttall's long call does not.
Western Wood-Pewee: Complete song consists of three delicate tsee notes followed by a descending, burry peeer, usually given at first light. AKA "the tiger goes grrrrr." Often sing only part of song (usually the last part).
Purple Martin: The common call is a deep, musical and elastic pew, pew, pew, typically given from the air. The song includes the pew notes and ends in an indescribable run of rich guttural notes.
Tree Swallow: From a perch or from the air, utters a gentle twittering killy killy tsiti killy, not sweet or musical but yet pleasing to the ear.
Violet-green Swallow: Gives 2 or 3 slight notes usually in flight tsip tseet tsip, also a rapid twittering. One of the first birds to call in the morning, often flying about and uttering notes before first light.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow: Call is a slight harsh prrit or higher preet, uttered repeatedly in flight. I call this one of the 'fart birds' (along with Lark Sparrow) because its call resembles the bodily noise.
American Crow: Typical call is caw or karr; "song" is a gobble and a high gargling note.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee: Gives hoarse raspy zee-zee call; song is tsic tsic tsic tyee.
American Dipper: Song is loud, musical, ebullient. Common call is a sharp bzeet or tsit, rapidly repeated in flight.
Swainson's Thrush: Song is a series of ethereal flutelike notes spiraling up the scale; hard introductory notes. Has a water drop-sounding call plus a sharp but mellow whit, a whee which often changes in pitch and a harsh grating cherrr. Compare with similar Hermit Thrush.
Cedar Waxwing: Call is a series of very high-pitched and sharp zee notes, run together, sometimes with a grating quality; given from a perch or in flight.
Solitary Vireo: Male often sings from nest. Song is chu-wee cheerio. Known as the elevator bird ("going up? going down?") or the question and answer bird. Call is a harsh scold note.
Warbling Vireo: Song is a clear, pleasant warble of many distinct notes, run together, quick but unhurried, and with considerable variation in pitch. Similar to Purple Finch but notes more distinct and more predictable. Call is a peevish quee. Male often sings from nest.
Yellow Warbler: Song variable but always cheerful and sweet: sweet sweet sweet summer sweet or sweet sweet sweet I'm so sweet with "summer" or "I'm so" lower.
Wilson's Warbler: Song is a series of short slurred notes: chichichichichi. May drop in pitch at end. Sounds angry.
Yellow-breasted Chat: Song is a jumble of harsh, chattering clucks, rattles, clear whistles, and squawks similar to songs of members of the family Mimidae.
Black-headed Grosbeak: Song resembles robin's but phrases run together, richer, more varied, longer. Sounds like a 'drunk' robin. Call is a sharp spik. Females also sing, but song is less frequent, shorter, and less loud. Both sexes sing from nest.
Lazuli Bunting: Song is a relatively fast, high-pitched jumble of notes; at times with a burry quality to some notes. Call is a buzzy zzzd. Song sounds like a cross between a warbler's and a sparrow's.
Song Sparrow: Song has 3 or 4 introductory notes followed by a series of chirps, trills, and buzzy notes. Call is reminiscent of a child's baby doll or squeeze toy.
Brown-headed Cowbird: Song is a
bubbling, creaky, rising higher at end than human ear can hear.
glug glee. Female and occasionally male give a call similar to rattle
call of Bullock's Oriole. Flight call is a squeaky whistle. Also a chuck
call. At least on the Central Coast, some males give an unmistakable chew
chew chewy from a perch or sometimes in flight.
Freshwater and Brackish Ponds and Marshes (e.g., Neary Lagoon, Harkins and Elkhorn sloughs)
Pied-billed Grebe: "Song" is a loud cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cow-cow-cow. Also gives a loud wah-hoo, wah-hoo and a rapid kek-kek-kek-kek.
Black-crowned Night-Heron: Utters a short, hoarse whook, usually from the air.
Sora: Calls include a ker-wee, repetitive, and sometimes preceding a whinny.
Virginia Rail:Kid kid kidick kidick... is a common call, another is a descending series of oink notes.
Common Snipe: Gives a series of resonant notes kyuk, kyuk, kyuk, or ka-tick. During courtship flight, tail feathers produce a soft, eerie whinnying.
Black Phoebe: Call of 4 syllables, the first two ti wee with an upward inflection, the last two ti wee with a downward inflection. During breeding season, male gives a repetitive ti-ti-ti during a fluttery flight display.
Marsh Wren: Song is a loud series of rapid, reedy notes and liquid rattles reminiscent of an old sewing machine. Sings day and night during breeding season.
Common Yellowthroat: Song is variable - often a loud witchety, witchety, witchety.... or witchoo, witchoo, witchoo.... Call is a flat, raspy tchep.
Red-winged Blackbird: Song is a distinctive con-ker-reee.
Tricolored Blackbird: The song is oh-kee-quay-a and has a 'dying' cat quality.
Coniferous Forests (Includes redwood and mixed evergreen, e.g., parts of Upper UCSC Campus, Big Basin, Nisine Marks, Henry Cowell)
Marbled Murrelet: The common terrestrial call is a piercing keer, repetitive; given in flight around sunrise and sometimes around sunset.
Mountain Quail: "Song" is a clear, barely two-noted quee-ark or wook?. Call is chup, repetitive.
Band-tailed Pigeon: "Song" is an owl-like oo-whooo, low and breathy.
Northern Pygmy-Owl: "Song" is a whistled too, repeated every 2 seconds. Sometimes given in pairs (i.e., too too)
Spotted Owl: Hoot has a distinctive rhythm hoo---hoo-hoo---hoooo. Males are lower. Calls include doglike barks and other strange and wonderful screeching sounds. Location call is an ascending whistle. Nearest populations are in Marin and Monterey counties.
Northern Saw-whet Owl: "Song" is a single-note whistle repeated mechanically and seemingly endlessly. Higher and faster than pygmy-owl. This species is somewhat tame and will respond to a rendition of its song.
Red-breasted Sapsucker: Call is a sharp, nasal keer or chattering. Drumming rhythm is irregular, spurts of 3-4 taps with pauses between, ends with a sequence of short bursts.
Hairy Woodpecker: Call is a sharp peek, or series of them, sharper and louder than Downy and Nuttall's. Also has a loud rattle. Sometimes makes a squeaky short series of wick-a notes, similar to flicker.
Pileated Woodpecker: Song is similar to flicker but louder, more hesitant, often rising or falling slightly at end.
Olive-sided Flycatcher: Song is quick three beers with second note higher. Call is a clear pip pip pip.
Pacific-slope Flycatcher: Song is slurred su-wheet interspersed with soft seet notes. Calls are a hollow pik, given by both sexes and a metallic pink note, also given by males as an alarm call. Also gives "dog whistle" call su-oo-wheet.
Steller's Jay: Song is low and musical, sometimes continues for several seconds, a series of whistled, harsh or gurgled notes and popping or snapping sounds run together with frequent repetitions, suggesting songs of members of family Mimidae, except for soft quality. Both sexes sing, although most commonly it is the male, often during courtship. The song is apparently not connected with territorial defense in any way; most calls are. Calls include shook-shook-shook, kwesh-kwesh. Commonly mimics Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks.
Common Raven: Call is a loud, horse raaawk, also the knocker call.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: No song. Call is continuous, loud yank, like a bicycle horn, more nasal than white-breasted's.
Pygmy Nuthatch: Call to one another incessantly with a high staccato ti-di, ti-di, ti-di, which becomes a rapid series of high cheeping notes when a number are together. As they fly they utter a soft kit, kit, kit.
Brown Creeper: Song is trees trees beautiful trees. Actually, this pattern is much clearer in Sierra Nevada populations, songs here are more variable. Call is a high, thin see, easily confused with Golden-crowned Kinglet but clearer, ringing, purer. Single, double, or triple, but most often double.
Winter Wren: Very long, loud song for such a tiny bird. A rapid series of melodious trills and warbles, much higher than House Wren. Call is a harsh kip, often double-noted.
Golden-crowned Kinglet: Song is high, thin, repeated tsee tsee tsee rising, accelerating and dropping to a chickadee-like chatter or trill. Females sing a partial song. Call is a whispery tsee tsee tsee, not always in threes (usually 3-5), less piercing than creeper and very slightly buzzy.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: Song is loud and varied, usually beginning with several subtle high thin notes, then bursting into louder rolling phrases. Sounds like a stubborn engine being 'turned over'. Common call is ji-dit, ji-dit...
Hermit Thrush: Song is flutelike, ethereal, with pauses between phrases, spiraling down the scale; begins with a long, soft, and clear introductory note. Common calls are chup and whreeee, both are territorially significant. Compare with similar Swainson's Thrush.
American Robin: Song is loud, variable, with breaks between phrases - called caroling. Song is less hoarse than tanager, more rapid than Solitary Vireo, slower, less varied, more phrased than Black-headed Grosbeak. Cheerily, cheer-up, cheerily... Calls include a rapid tut tut tut (known as the mad man call) and tweep. Sings very early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Varied Thrush: Song is a long-drawn quavering note with something of the quality of escaping steam; after a short interval the note is repeated in a higher pitch, again in a lower, ee-ee-ee-ee. The notes have a meditative quality. Call is a low tschook.
Yellow-rumped Warbler: Variable song. First note given rather slowly, then its utterance is more rapid, rising or (more commonly) falling at end. Often sing softly. Call is a loud tchip.
Townsend's Warbler: Song is a short, wheezy swee swee swee ee-zee. Call is a thin stick.
Hermit Warbler: Song similar to Black-throated Gray but higher, squeakier. Generally consists of a 3-parted phrase followed by 1 or 2 lower notes: seezel seezel seezel zeet (zeet). Sings high in trees. Call is a loud tsip.
Western Tanager: Song is robin-like, but phrases much shorter, and has a scratchy sounding quality. Common call is a distinctive pri-di-dic.
Chipping Sparrow: Song is a trill similar to junco but longer, drier, harsher.
Dark-eyed Junco: Song is a loose, musical trill on one pitch, very similar to Chipping Sparrow's, but with a ringing quality. Calls are a sharp smack (alarm note) and light twittering notes. Variable volume song, sometimes very soft and local.
Purple Finch: Song is a rapid rolling warble, watery sounding, run together, close to a monotone. Richer than House Finch; lacks zree notes.
Red Crossbill: Utters a vigorous jip, jip, jip, generally given in threes, twos, or singly from the air or a perch.
Pine Siskin: Song is finch-like but huskier, with a loud rising zzzhreeeee (the zipper call) usually included. Calls are a harsh, rising zeeep, and a hoarse tee-ee, given in flight and similar to Lesser Goldfinch's but usually preceded by a slight warble.
Coastal Scrub and Chaparral (e.g., Garrapata and Loma Prieta respectively)
California Quail: Characteristic call is an emphatic Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go... Male also gives a simple cah (known as the cow call) usually from a prominent perch to advertise his territory. Also various yelps and clucks.
Common Poorwill: Song is a loud, whistled, and repetitive poor-will.
Bewick's Wren: Full song consists of 3 parts, a high quick opening of 2 or more notes, then lower notes rather burry in quality, and in closing a very delicate fine trill. Cadence is similar to Song Sparrow's song. There are almost endless variations. Calls are harsh and scratchy, some sounding like pecking on a manual typewriter, or a "little electric frog".
Wrentit: Male's song is a series of notes on one pitch running into a trill, known as the "bouncing ball." Female's song lacks the trill, is shorter and not given as frequently. Call is a soft prrt. Both sexes sing, defend the territory, incubate, and brood. Song is the best way to distinguish sexes.
California Thrasher: The song is made up of separate phrases, some of them sweet and musical, others rather harsh; phrases are often repeated. Occasionally mocks but to a very limited extent. Common call is a sharp hreek.
White-crowned Sparrow: Song varies with subspecies and region; the local breeding race (Nuttall's) song is a wheezy chee chee, tsid-i, tsid-i, tsee. "I'm a sexy White-crowned Sparrow" with "I'm a" slower. Calls include a thin tseep and a louder pink.
Golden-crowned Sparrow: Song is a plaintive whistled oh dear me, each note an interval lower in pitch than the preceding. Calls include a sometimes drawn-out tseep and a flat tsick.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow: Song is a rapid, bubbling series of chip notes. Distinctive call is a sharp dear, dear, dear, dear; notes have a bouncy quality.
Spotted Towhee: Song is a fast, dry trill chweee. Call is a cat-like rhweee. Presence often first indicated by loud rustle of dry leaves as the bird scratches vigorously in the underbrush.
California Towhee: Song sounds like a weak imitation of the Wrentit's: tsip tsip tsip tsip, churr, churr, churr, given without much animation. Two or more birds often squabble and utter a succession of squeaking and gurgling notes. Call is a rather emphatic chink.
American Goldfinch: Song is a lively,
high-pitched continuous series of chips, twitters, and trills. Flight call
is perchickaree, perchickaree...