Sunday at 8:35 a.m.

Listen and learn about the intriguing ways of birds with BirdNote, a weeky feature airing mornings on VPR.  From New England to the tropics, migration patterns to mating rituals, BirdNote brings you into the world of nature.  You'll also hear the featured bird each week, so don't be surprised if your cat runs for the radio on Saturday mornings!

Copyright Sean O'Neill

Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 8:58 a.m.  Birds are an inspiration for many musicians. Before writing “The Penguin,” Raymond Scott probably saw these birds at the Central Park Zoo. Though penguins are clumsy on land, Gentoos like the one pictured here are the fastest of any diving bird, reaching 22 miles an hour. Speaking of swimmers, Brazilian composer Joao Gilberto has swans, geese and ducks doing the samba in his song “O Pato,” or “The Duck.” And Dave Brubeck, who grew up in the west, undoubtedly heard the Western Meadowlark before writing “Strange Meadowlark.”

AP/Marko Drobnjakovic

Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 8:58 a.m.  A pigeon pacing up and down anxiously in Central Park sees his friend hop up on the curb. "Where have you been? I've been waiting for hours!" The new arrival says, "It was such a nice day, I decided to walk!" This laugh track also includes gulls, ducks, and chickens.

Learn more about BirdNote.

Copyright Dave Lundy

Great Horned Owls have a lot to say! When a pair of Great Horned Owls calls in a duet, the female usually hoots first, and the male replies at a lower pitch. Great Horned Owls may also pierce the darkness with an eerie shriek, which may signal a hungry owlet begging for food or a female defending its nest. They can also hiss, pop, meow, coo, and snap their bills. So have a listen after dark. There may be a Great Horned Owl in your neighborhood!

Copyright Adrian Pingstone

On June 23, 2000, the "MV Treasure" iron ore tanker sank off the coast of South Africa, covering 19,000 adult African Penguins penguins in oil. Fortunately, thousands of volunteers arrived to help. The oily birds were moved to Cape Town to be cleaned. Another 19,500 penguins that escaped the oil were released at sea, 600 miles to the east. It took those birds nearly three weeks to swim back home, allowing workers time to clean up the oil-fouled waters and beaches.

Learn more about BirdNote.

Copyright Joe Fischer

Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 8:58 a.m.

Years ago, Yellow-billed Cuckoos like this one were frequent visitors to the Pacific Northwest. They’re one of the few birds that eat tent caterpillars, a species that can wreak havoc on the leaves of trees. It’s a mystery why the cuckoos no longer come. During a tent caterpillar outbreak, we know it can’t be for lack of food. Something else must be at play.

Copyright Paul Bannick

Sat 5/18/13 9:58 am This lovely creature is a Barn Swallow. Notice the rich colors! A genuine master of the air, the swallow swoops low along the ground at high speed, changing direction in the blink of an eye. This prodigy has flown all the way from South America, to offer - without fee - its services as a prolific collector of flying insects, which it vacuums from the air. The Barn Swallow is a common summer visitor.

Copyright Jim Gilbert

Sat 5/11/13 9:58 am May is the prime month across much of North America to celebrate the return of migratory birds from the tropics. Of all those coming back, it is the warblers that many birders eagerly await. And of the more than 50 species that brighten our spring, many gleam like precious stones. From the sky-blue of the Cerulean Warbler to the golden cloak of this Prothonotary Warbler, these tiny birds dazzle us. Purchasing shade-grown coffee can help these and other warblers!

Copyright Gary Witt

As singers go, American Robins are exceptional. They’re often the first birds to sing in the morning, and the last you’ll hear in the evening. While their average song strings fewer than a dozen short phrases together and lasts only a few seconds, robins sometimes sing for minutes without a pause. But the most extraordinary measure of robin song is its variety.

Credit Copyright Bob Barber

Cactus Wrens, which may nest several times between March and September, carefully orient their nests in tune with the season. These bulky twig structures have a side entrance that curves toward the inner chamber. When building a nest for the hot months, the wren faces the opening to receive the afternoon breeze. By contrast, a Cactus Wren building a nest in early March orients the entrance away from the cold winds of that season, keeping the chicks snug and warm.

The Lost Bird Project

In a forest on Martha’s Vineyard, a Heath Hen struts through the brush. Columbus, Ohio, harbors a Passenger Pigeon. In Okeechobee Florida, you can find a Carolina Parakeet. A Great Auk scans the Atlantic Ocean from atop a rock on Fogo Island, Newfoundland. A sea-going Labrador Duck rests near the Chemung River in New York. How is this possible? Each of these species is extinct! Many PBS stations will air the movie on Earth Day, April 22. Check the schedule to see if your station is one of those.

BirdNote: Horned Lark

Apr 13, 2013
Copyright: Tom Munson

A high-pitched, tinkling birdsong rings across the open, grassy expanse of a field.

The song comes from above, as a male Horned Lark hovers on fluttering wings, circling a hundred feet above the ground.

Although a locally common nester in some open habitats of the West, the population in general has decreased by 56% in the last 40 years.

Loss of suitable habitat is the cause.

Find more about the Horned Lark on the BirdNote homepage.

They Do Exist!

Apr 6, 2013
Mark Coates 2009

Rock Pigeons are one of the most common urban birds so why do we never see baby pigeons?

Some baby birds - like down-covered ducks, geese, and chickens - leave their nest shortly after hatching and do a lot of growing up while following their parents around.

Others, like pigeons, depend on their parents to feed and protect them, well into their youth.

They stay in the nest - under bridges and awnings, for instance - until they're nearly as big as the adult birds.

Find more here at BirdNote.

Musical Inspiration

Mar 30, 2013

Young Birdwatchers

Mar 23, 2013

Teens hone their birding skills as part of a nature camp.

In New York City, one camper got hooked on a Red-bellied Woodpecker, like this one.

Another camper says: When I went to my first birding camp, I knew nothing and I just liked looking at birds... then I started learning about all the taxonomy, and I think it's really enhanced what I know about science.

These campers revel in the opportunity to spend time with their peers while immersed in nature.

Learn more about young birders on BirdNote.


Mar 16, 2013
2005 Michael Todd Thorp

Walking on eggshells usually means dealing with something delicate, fragile.

Actually, eggs are far from fragile. An egg has to be strong enough to withstand the weight of an adult bird during incubation and the tiny, weak baby bird within has to be able to peck its way out.

Is it true that if you touch a bird's eggs, the bird will abandon the nest? No, but don't do it! You don't want to alert those wily raiders, crows and jays, to that well-kept secret.

Find more here.

Owl Duet

Mar 9, 2013
Guy Lichter

The 22-inch Great Horned Owl has two tufts of feathers that stick up from the top of its head.

This owl is difficult to see, but it's often heard during dark winter evenings and pre-dawn mornings.

A pair of owls may call back and forth or overlap their hoots.

The male's call is slightly lower in pitch. Listen for the owl's night-time refrain, Who's awake? Me, too.

Learn more here.

The Knowing Crow

Mar 2, 2013
Keith Brust

To find out if they could recognize an individual human face, Professor John Marzluff of the University of Washington wore a mask while trapping, banding, and then releasing seven American Crows on campus.

Later, he walked through the campus wearing the mask.

A big group of birds scolded and dive-bombed him.

He thinks it's a benefit to the birds' survival to point out and recognize challenges in their environment.

Watch a video and learn more at!

House Finch

Feb 23, 2013
2006 Joe Henderson

Even birds are what they eat!

House Finches are familiar birds all across North America. Researchers have shown that the red coloration of males is produced from carotenoid pigments in the birds' diet.

Male House Finches develop brighter plumage when they are growing in new feathers, if they eat more fruits containing carotenoids.

Females prefer more brightly colored males. Redder males also attract females in better condition, and such a pair raises, on the average, more young.

Find out more here.


Annual Backyard Bird Count

Feb 16, 2013
2005 Adam Sedgley

This weekend is the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology.

Birders across the country count birds in parks or fields or their own back yards, and then report the numbers online.

The number of reports sent in last year by citizen-scientists numbered more than 97,000.

Although it may seem that crows are everywhere, the beautiful Northern Cardinal appears at the top of the list nearly every year, far above the crow.

Birders and Hunters

Feb 9, 2013
2009 Greg Lohse

Thanks to the political will and financial contributions of waterfowl hunters and organizations like Ducks Unlimited, natural wetlands that might otherwise have been lost have been preserved.

Waterfowl hunters dedicate millions of dollars every year to the conservation of wetlands. Some of the wildlife refuges we treasure were purchased with funds from the sale of duck stamps to hunters and other conservationists.

The overall impact of hunting on waterfowl numbers is modest; ducks and geese persist in great numbers after the hunting season ends.