BirdNote | KNKX



BirdNote strives to transport listeners out of the daily grind and into the natural world with outstanding audio programming and online content. The stories we tell are rich in sound, imagery, and information, connecting the ways and needs of birds to the lives of listeners.

BirdNote shows are aired on public radio stations around the country every day and can be found online at any time. Each show is scheduled to coincide with the time of year when it’s possible to see or hear the featured bird. We inspire people to listen, look, and exclaim, “Oh, that’s what that is!”

Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited

Some birds are born with the ability to sing. Others learn to sing while they're young — just like humans, who must learn to speak.

It turns out that vocal learning in songbirds and humans may have more in common than anyone suspected. Recent DNA research reveals that songbirds and humans share a set of roughly 50 genes that appear crucial to vocal learning.

And it's possible that because scientists now understand the genetic similarities between speech and birdsong learning, they can use that insight to study human speech acquisition in new ways.  

Greg Lavaty

The small, nondescript Pied-billed Grebe has an astonishing talent. The grebe is the master of its own buoyancy.

It can squeeze out both the air trapped in its feathers and in its internal air-sacs and sink effortlessly. Learn more about the amazing, sinking Pied-billed Grebe at Cornell's AllAboutBirds. 

Tom Grey

Tall and prehistoric-looking, the Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America. Great Blue Herons are often seen flying high overhead with slow wing-beats.

When foraging, they stand silently along riverbanks, on lake shores, or in wet meadows. Quickly then, they stab at their prey.

Although usually found in or near water, Great Blue Herons nest high in trees, with several nests in a colony. Learn more about this bird at Cornell's AllAboutBirds.  

Mark Hoover

Ravens are seen as tricksters in many traditions. But Common Ravens have a softer side. During courtship, a pair will often sit side by side, sometimes preening each other's feathers. And during that ritual, one or both may make soft warbling sounds.

Raven nestlings sometimes make this same sound after they've been fed. Compared to the usual raucous raven calls, this one is soothing. It's called a comfort sound. You can hear more raven songs at

Mike Hamilton

In winter, a foraging flock might include several species of birds: chickadees, kinglets, and even a Downy Woodpecker. Many bird species eat alone, so you might wonder why these birds have chosen to dine together.

Different species flocking together to find food enhances the success of all. One species assists the foraging of others. Find out how to attract birds to your back yard at Cornell's AllAboutBirds. Join your local Audubon chapter and learn how to help save habitat for birds.  

Francesco Veronesi

Today, winter still holds sway over much of North America. But in Argentina, it’s summer, and birds are in full voice. Argentina’s national bird, the Rufous Hornero, belts out a rapid trill while the Rufous-bellied Thrush sings its lovely song.

In the tropical forests of northeastern Argentina, a male Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, like the one pictured here, booms out its display calls. And the cheerful, bubbly notes of an Ultramarine Grosbeak remind us that spring in North America — and the arrival of birds like the Rose-breasted Grosbeak — isn’t too far off.   

Geoff Coe

Wood Storks nest in trees, often in big colonies, and only when conditions are just right for them. Because of their feeding technique, they thrive in the early part of the dry season, when receding floodwaters concentrate fish in small pools. But this method of feeding is effective only when the rainy season is normal.

In some years, increased droughts brought about by global climate change prevent Wood Storks from breeding at all. Learn more about Wood Stork conservation. Have you ever seen a Wood Stork? Find us on Facebook and share your story.  

Chris Campbell

Look for the stories birds tell with their tracks in the snow. A crow swaggers, leaving right-and-left steps much as a walking human would.

Juncos under a birdfeeder leave a hopping pattern of tiny footprints in side-by-side pairs. Look for beak marks, where a bird picked up a choice morsel or probed the ground. Tell-tale signs sometimes tell stories of life and death.

You might see mouse tracks end suddenly, just where you find the imprint of an owl's wings. Find out more about animal tracking at the Wilderness Awareness School. And learn more in Bird Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species, a book by Mark Elbroch.  

Gerrit Vyn

In some years, great numbers of Snowy Owls come south from the Arctic to reside in fields, farmlands, and shorelines. In the past, it was believed that population crashes of lemmings on the breeding grounds caused many owls to come south.

But their movements are more complex and unpredictable than that. The years that we see many Snowy Owls actually seem to be the result of an abundance of lemmings on the breeding grounds and thus, throngs of hungry young owls. Be sure to watch the video by Gerrit Vyn.  

BirdNote: BirdNote At 10

Feb 21, 2015

To celebrate BirdNote's 10-year anniversary, we asked BirdNote founder Chris Peterson how she came up with the idea for the show. The StarDate public radio program provided inspiration.

“I had this idea grab me around the neck,” Chris recalls. “Why don’t we do for birds what StarDate does for stars?” She gathered a team, and the first BirdNote broadcast, “Bald Eagle – National Symbol,” aired on KPLU 88.5 FM Seattle/Tacoma on February 21, 2005. Since then, more than 1200 shows have aired.

We thank stations and listeners for all their support along the way.  

BirdNote: American Kestrel

Feb 20, 2015
Paul Bannick

The American Kestrel is the smallest, most numerous, and most widespread North American falcon. This bird is built for speed, its long pointed wings often bent back at the tip.

While hunting, kestrels hover above an open field. These days, the lack of suitable nesting cavities, which limits American Kestrel populations in some areas, has lead to public interest in installing wooden nest boxes.  

Richard Bowdler Sharpe

In the world of birds, you’ll find King Penguins, King Vultures, King Eiders, 89 species of kingfishers, 11 species of kingbirds, and three species tiny kinglets. But of the 10,000 species of birds around the globe, there are no “queens.”

Once upon a time, there was a species of bird-of-paradise named Queen Carola’s Parotia (illustrated here). Carola was the wife of King Albert the 1st of Saxony, who also had a bird named for him, the King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise. Alas, the queen’s bird had its name trimmed to the more tidy “Carola’s Parotia.”   

Gerrit Vyn

Imagine carrying heavy battery-operated equipment - along with all your camping gear - across the tundra. That's what recordist Gerrit Vyn did on assignment for Cornell's Lab of Ornithology.

His mission? To record the calls of this Yellow-billed Loon. You can learn more about the lab and about The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds - see Related Resources below.

BirdNote is grateful to all the radio stations that carry the show. And thanks, too, to recordists, photographers, donors, and especially the listeners!  

Jack Jeffrey

'Alala, also known as Hawaiian Crows (although they're more like ravens), were once common on the Big Island of Hawaii. But the birds suffered from persecution by humans, degraded habitat, and disease, and by 2002, no 'Alala were left in the wild.

Today, captive breeding is under way in Hawaii, and 2011 was the best year ever for the program. The total 'Alala population now stands at 95 birds. While a previous attempt to return 'Alala to the wild came up short, we await the day when conditions are right to bring the sacred raven back to its forest.

Learn more at  

Paul Bannick

Stretch your arms as far as you can, and imagine a bird whose reach is even greater! Sitting about three feet tall, the Bald Eagle has a wingspan of more than six feet. When you see a mature Bald Eagle, you'll see a snowy-white head and tail with a dark brown body.

Look closer and you'll see lemon yellow eyes and a powerful set of legs and feet. To learn more about the intriguing ways of the Bald Eagle, visit Cornell's All About Birds.  

Francesco Veronesi

On a snow-covered field in northern Japan, two majestic Red-crowned Cranes face one another, raise their heads toward the sky, and call in unison. As they call, the pair begins to dance. They bow to one another, then throw their heads over their backs, then bow again.

The pair leaps into the air, at the same time raising their wings. The Red-crowned Cranes' unison dance is a ritual the pair will perform together many times over the years, to strengthen their lifelong bond. In Japanese tradition, the beloved crane is said to live 1,000 years and symbolizes longevity. "

Fold a thousand cranes and the gods will fulfill your heart's desire."   

Jeff Rogerson

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 13 - 15, 2015, is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Birdwatchers across the country count birds and then report the numbers on-line.

Although it may seem that crows are everywhere, the Northern Cardinal is reported on the most lists nearly every year, far above the crow. Well, if there's a male cardinal at your feeder, it is pretty hard to miss!

Birds reported in the highest numbers in 2012 were the European Starling and the American Robin, and more recently Tree Swallows and Snow Geese!  

Estormiz at Wikimedia Commons

You'll find the Black-capped Chickadee across the northern US into Canada. The Carolina Chickadee holds sway in the Southeast.

Hear the husky voice of a Mountain Chickadee in the Rockies. Travel to Canada for the Boreal Chickadee. The Chestnut-backed Chickadee calls the Pacific Northwest home. The Mexican Chickadee just nudges into SE Arizona. And this Gray-headed Chickadee turns up north of the Arctic Circle.  

Jos Eijsackers

Storks and babies have been linked together for centuries. But how did that old legend get started? Researchers suggest that the legend goes back to pagan times, when civilizations were keen to have high birthrates.

The myth of storks and babies was forged by the birds' return in spring, when many babies were born. Many people in Europe still associate White Storks with good luck and look forward to the birds' return.  

BirdNote: Connectivity

Feb 10, 2015
Nick Saunders

Migratory birds connect the Northern Plains with many parts of the Western Hemisphere. Barn and Cliff Swallows, McCown's Longspurs, this Lark Bunting, and many other birds winter from Central to southern South America.

But their reproduction depends on the bounty of the prairie spring. Disrupting any part of their annual life cycle - breeding habitat, stopover places during spring and fall migration, and wintering habitat - reduces the survival of the species. Learn more at  

Tony Ashton

The strange wading birds known as jacanas are nick-named "lily-trotters" for their ability to walk on lilypads. In Jamaica, they're known as "Jesus birds," because they appear to be walking on water — a feat made possible by their long toes.

But that's not all that's cool about jacanas. The males, including the Comb-crested Jacana pictured here, can carry their young under their wings. Picture this colorful wading bird, crouching down and spreading his wings.

The young scoot in under him, and he sweeps them up anad carries them off, tiny legs dangling from under his wings. Check out the video!  

Paul Bannick

The emphatic hoots of a pair of Barred Owls resonate in the still of a winter's night. Like many owls, Barred Owls initiate their vocal courtship in winter.

A fairly large owl - a perching bird is 21 inches tall - Barred Owls are also among the most vocal. More than a dozen Barred Owl calls range from a "siren call" to a "wail" to a wonderfully entertaining "monkey call."  

BirdNote: Mating For Life

Feb 7, 2015
Ganesh Jayaraman

Most bird species in North America mate for a single breeding season. Some may team up again the following year, just because both stay in - or return to - the same territory.

Fewer than one-fifth of Song Sparrow pairs, like these, are reunited. Hawks, eagles, and ravens have wide territories, thus few contacts with the opposite sex. Maintaining a relationship through the winter may assure breeding in the next season.

BirdNote: American Coots

Feb 6, 2015
Greg Lavaty

American Coots settle onto lakes and estuaries, forming rafts of hundreds, even thousands, of birds. They like to feed on aquatic vegetation, and sometimes they lumber ashore to nibble at grasses and agricultural crops.

The coot's lobed toes help it swim and maneuver under water. To get airborne, the coot requires a long, running takeoff. Be sure to watch the video of a coot feeding on the Chesapeake Bay.  

If it weren't for birds, how many of us would take notice of the natural world? Birds are all around us. In our back yards or driving across country, most of the animals we see are birds.

Many draw attention with their songs. Some birds hunt on the wing, and you'll see one if you watch the sky. They sometimes fly in large flocks. Birds are unavoidable. How many fewer nature-lovers there would be, if it weren't for more than the 10,000 species of birds! Imagine a world without this Green Heron...  

KJFMiller/Tom Grey

Scientists have puzzled for centuries over how different groups of birds are related. Did birds that look physically alike, such as falcons and hawks, arise from a common ancestor, or did they reach those similarities independently?

This line of inquiry was given an immense boost in recent years when an international research team unraveled the genetic codes of 48 species of birds. The results are emerging, including a revised evolutionary tree for birds that places falcons such as this kestrel — and parrots such as this Rainbow Lorikeet — on adjoining branches.  

Stephen Kacir

Black Rails are marsh-inhabiting birds, more often heard than seen. Many Black Rails nest in marshes along the Atlantic seaboard and in the Midwest. But in winter they concentrate in the coastal marshes of East Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, areas that face many threats.

US populations of Black Rails have declined greatly. In recent decades, the enactment of laws protecting wetlands has improved the bird's prospects. Still, the Black Rail remains on American Bird Conservancy's "red list."  

BirdNote: Why I Fish

Feb 2, 2015

BirdNote writer and editor Todd Peterson recounts memories of wild places where he enjoyed fishing with his father, including the St. Joe River in the Bitterroot Mountains of northern Idaho and the Elk River near British Columbia’s wild border with Alberta.

The call of a loon is among the sounds that take him back to the wonder of the natural world and the joy of spending time with his father.

Tony Angell

Tony Angell, along with Professor John Marzluff of the University of Washington, wrote the book, Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans.

Tony says, "A crow 'funeral' is where the deceased bird is surrounded by members of the same species, in significant numbers." Crows descend from the trees, and they walk around the bird on the ground. And then they fly off.

It's very likely that the crows are learning from this experience. Is there danger here? What does the death of this particular crow mean to the social structure of that community of crows? It seems to be a little more complicated than just paying homage.  

Tom Grey

The Reddish Egret, a particularly glamorous heron, is best known for its startling antics in capturing fish.

When fishing, the egret sprints across the lagoon, weaving left and right, simultaneously flicking its broad wings in and out, while stabbing into the water with its bill.

Fish startled at the egret’s crazed movements become targets of that pink dagger. At times, the bird will raise its wings forward over its head, creating a shadow on the water. It then freezes in this position for minutes. Fish swim in, attracted by a patch of shade and . . . well, you know the rest.