Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Episode 254 (2-23-15): "Sparrow," by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, Introduces a Big Group of Small Songsters

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:55)

Transcript, photo, and additional notes follow below.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of February 23, 2015.

This week, we start with a tune named for a widespread kind of bird whose small size makes it a familiar symbol in human culture.

MUSIC – ~ 17 SEC

You’ve been listening to part of “Sparrow,” by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, from their 2004 album, “Driftage,” on Great Bear Records.  This lively music fits its namesake: songs among the many species of sparrow are lively and diverse.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds to a sample from three species.


Those were songs of the Savannah Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow.  These three are among approximately 50 North American species in a family of birds that includes sparrows, juncos, longspurs, snow buntings, and towhees—collectively called the “New World sparrows.”  All have short, cone-shaped bills for feeding mostly on seeds, although insects or other animals can be a big part of their diet during breeding.  About 30 members of this group are known to occur in Virginia, either as summer breeders, winter residents, year-round residents, or seasonal migrants.  The birds actually named sparrows are typically small and brown with streaks on their back and sometimes on their breast.  As shown by the names of the three species you heard, different sparrows occupy a range of habitats, including various water-related habitats.  Identifying a particular sparrow often requires knowing its habitat, along with distinguishing among the different sparrow songs, because individual sparrows can be hard to spot, and if you do get a look, different species can look very similar.

But one kind of sparrow—one that’s not classified by scientists with the “New World” sparrows—is quite commonly seen and heard.  That’s the House Sparrow, or English Sparrow, a native of Europe and Asia that—since its introduction to North America in the 1800s—has become one of this continent’s most widespread birds.

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.  And thanks also to Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 20 more seconds of “Sparrow.”


For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at virginiawaterradio.org, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.

[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 2/23/15]
Sparrows at a backyard feeder in Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 27, 2015.
Savannah Sparrow near Gainesville, Fla., Jan. 29, 2015.  Photo by Robert Abraham, used with permission.


“Sparrow” and “Driftage” are copyright by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand and Great Bear Records, used with permission.  More information about Andrew and Noah and their bands is available online at https://www.andrewandnoah.com/andrewandnoah/dev/music/.

The sounds of the Savannah Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at http://www.langelliott.com/ and the “Music of Nature” Web site, http://www.musicofnature.org/.

Sources for this Episode
A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America
, by Chandler S. Robbins et al., St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada
, by James D. Rising with illustrations by David D. Beadle, Academic  Press, San Diego, Calif., 1996.

“All About Birds,” Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, online at
http://www.allaboutbirds.org; and “Birds of North America Online” Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, online at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna (subscription required).

, by Kim Todd, Reakton Books, London, England, 2012.  (This book focuses on the House Sparrow, but it includes information on many other sparrow species, as well.  It discusses many examples of sparrows in art, literature, history, and legend.)

Virginia Department of Game and Inland “Fish and Wildlife Information Service” Web page at http://vafwis.org/fwis/?Title=VaFWIS+Species+Information+By+Name&vUT=Visitor.  (Users can search for individual species or groups by common name or scientific name.)

Other Sources of Information about Birds in Virginia

Life in the Chesapeake Bay
, by Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md., 2006.

The Virginia Society of Ornithology is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.  The Society’s Web site is www.virginiabirds.net.

E-bird Web site at
http://ebird.org/content/ebird/, maintained by the Cornell Lab and the Audubon Society.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

SOLs Information for Virginia Teachers
This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):
Earth Resources: 4.9;
Living Systems: 4.4, 5.5;
Life Science: LS.4;
Biology: BIO.6, BIO.8.

Related Virginia Water Radio Episodes

For other episodes on birds, please see the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html), and scroll down to “Birds.”