Digital Media Center
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Gate 61
920 Paul Bryant Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0370
(800) 654-4262

© 2024 Alabama Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WUAL is an auxiliary transmitter as we upgrade the main transmitter.
Alabama Shakespeare Festival Enter for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

'Canada, Canada, Cana...da': Researchers Spot Change To White-Throated Sparrow's Song

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Experienced birders might be familiar with the sounds of the white-throated sparrow. Some say the end of the call sounds like the word Canada repeated several times.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHITE-THROATED SPARROW CALLING)

KEN OTTER: Canada, Canada, Canada, Canada.

KELLY: That is Dr. Ken Otter. In 2000 he was doing his first field study in northern British Columbia. He was studying area bird populations and made a discovery.

OTTER: I was working on chickadees, but I noticed that there was white-throated sparrows around.

KELLY: White-throated sparrows - they weren't known to be in the area, but there they were. And they sounded a bit different.

OTTER: They were going, can-a-can-a-can-a-Canada-da (ph), almost like they were stuttering that last phrase.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHITE-THROATED SPARROW CALLING)

KELLY: Otter figured this unusual new tune was maybe specific to this one community of sparrows.

OTTER: It wasn't until seven or eight years later that we started to realize that the song was actually spreading eastwards.

KELLY: Yeah. In 2004 only around half of the sparrows in Alberta, Canada, were singing the song. By 2014, that had changed. You might say the tweet went viral.

OTTER: All the birds in Alberta were now singing this Western dialect.

KELLY: Now, Otter does not know why exactly this new song has caught on. He imagines this little spark of variation maybe might improve a male sparrow's chances with the ladies.

OTTER: If there's a little bit of female preference, which is something we want to test next, then it would be advantageous for males to sing an atypical song. And after a while, it would just take over.

KELLY: In that case, it seems like the white-throated sparrow's sultry new crooner is here to stay.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATLES' "FLYING")

KELLY: You're listening to All Tweets Considered. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

News from Alabama Public Radio is a public service in association with the University of Alabama. We depend on your help to keep our programming on the air and online. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.