Evolutionary Breakthrough of Hawks and Eagles (Accipitridae)

Binomial nomenclature is the primary system that scientists use to name, group, and differentiate organisms in the tree of life. Occasionally, new data is collected that causes scientists to reconsider and refine these hypotheses, and names must be changed to reflect the current state of knowledge.

Hawks, eagles, and some vultures are classified in the family Accipitridae. Many of the species in this group are charismatic and well known to the public, but there is lingering uncertainty about their evolutionary relationships. A recent paper published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, co-authored by Dr. Matthew Halley (Assistant Curator of Birds at Delaware Museum of Nature and Science) with lead author Dr. Therese Catanach (Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University) and Dr. Stacy Pirro (Iridian Genomes), sheds new light on this evolutionary puzzle. By analyzing genetic (DNA) sequences from 237 species, they propose a major revision to the taxonomy of Accipitridae, which will require several name changes.

This family tree shows the currently accepted grouping of various hawk species.

For local birders, the most intriguing finding is the non-monophyly of the cosmopolitan genus Accipiter. To resolve this issue, Catanach et al. propose to reclassify the American Goshawk (Accipiter atricapillus) and Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) in the genus Astur.

This Cooper’s Hawk skeleton on exhibit in the museum may need a new title soon.

Catanach, T. A., Halley, M. R., and S. Pirro. 2024. Enigmas no longer: using Ultraconserved Elements to place several unusual hawk taxa and address the non-monophyly of the genus Accipiter (Accipitriformes: Accipitridae). Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society, blae028. https://doi.org/10.1093/biolinnean/blae028

If you are unable to access the paper and would like a copy, please email Dr. Halley.

Learn more about Dr. Halley’s research projects and publications on his website.

Bird Department Launches “Carcass Club”

The DelMNS Bird Department has recently started a “carcass club” with wildlife ecology and environmental science student volunteers from the University of Delaware. In the group, students facilitate the preparation of new specimens for the scientific collection. Ever since its inception, the museum has salvaged “window-strikes” and other recently-deceased birds, to save their bodies for scientific use.

Once a week, the club gathers at the museum to prepare study skins (a specialized form of taxidermy) and spread wings for the collections, while also receiving training from the collections staff. Students will have the opportunity to learn other preparation types, such as skeletons, later in the year. Specimens vouchered in the museum are an important resource for monitoring the long-term health of local ecosystems, and researchers from around the world will have access to these specimens and their data.

Study skins are used for morphometrics (measuring and analyzing the shape and size of specimens), biodiversity, and genetics research in addition to identification.

It’s a messy job, but someone has to do it!

Wooden dowels provide structural support prevent specimens from flattening, and make them easier to handle.

Morphometrics including the lengths of wings, tails and beaks are measured before and after a specimen is prepared.

Great Pine Swamp, 200 Years Later


In May 1811, the Scottish-born American ornithologist, Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), collected specimens of three supposedly new wood warbler species, and one new thrush in a place called the “Great Pine Swamp.” Twenty years later, John James Audubon (1785-1851) claimed that he “followed [Wilson’s] track” in 1829 and located the swamp near Rockport, Pennsylvania.

However, in June 2023, Dr. Matthew Halley, Assistant Curator of Birds, used historical maps to retrace Wilson’s expedition and found that the “Great Pine Swamp” was actually in Monroe County, PA, 16 miles east of Rockport and on the opposite side of the Lehigh River, contrary to Audubon’s claim. This resolves the mystery surrounding the swamp’s location and offers new insights into Wilson’s and Audubon’s observations of the species there.

The “A” on this map shows the likely field site of Audubon. The “W” is the actual collecting location of Wilson’s “Great Pine Swamp,” on the opposite side of the Lehigh River, courtesy of Matthew R. Halley.

The paper is free and open access. Read here.

Learn more about Halley’s research projects and publications on his website.

Conserving the Collections

The extensive scientific collections of the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science are utilized by scientists and researchers all around the world. As catalog databases of the collections and their inventories are constantly being built and updated, they are also made more accessible. Increased use of these collections needs to be balanced with conservation efforts to ensure they exist for future generations. Unfortunately, some materials used to store specimens have become outdated and require replacement to best preserve the museum’s collections.

Rows of metal cabinets house the mollusk and bird collections at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science.

Current Conservation Methods

In the mollusks collection, specimens are preserved either as the dry animal-made shell, or as the entire body and soft parts of the animal in alcohol. The bird collection specimens are preserved as study skins (a specialized taxidermy for research), but also have preserved tissue samples in alcohol, spread wings, skeletons, and traditional taxidermy.

Currently, the collection is stored in specimen trays that are made of paste board wrapped in paper. Depending on their age, some trays may or may not be made out of archival quality material. However, new archival boxes can still endure changes in chemistry when they come into contact with wooden drawers that exist in many cabinets. These wooden drawers could release harmful acid vapors and change the chemical composition of the storage materials. When these materials touch specimens they can cause the chemicals to breakdown, recrystallize, and destroy the specimens, according to Alex Kittle, Senior Collections Manager of Mollusks.

Archival boxes are often laid with unbuffered paper to help protect specimens
Mollusks in archival boxes are stored in trays
Yellowing spots on this shell indicate Byne’s disease, a decay of calcium carbonate and acidic vapor.
Toucans and hornbills stored with unbuffered paper
Fuzzy coating on the left egg indicates decay from Byne’s disease
Fuzzy coating on the egg indicates decay from Byne’s Disease
Damage to these butterflies are indicative of pests

Plans for Improvements

Improvements needed to the collections have been addressed. The collections would benefit from plastic boxes made of a stable plastic and more archival specimen trays. There are regular updates to materials that contain specimens, but there can only be so much done each year. Changing the cabinets the specimens are currently housed in could also prevent any concern of pest damage, and make a world of difference in improving long term conservation. Fortunately, all of the study skin collections are already in new cabinets with metal drawers and archival materials.

Conservation of data is another important concern of collections management. In certain bird species with a fatty diet, oil can seep onto identification tags, remove ink, and make them impossible to read. Additionally, beetles and other pests will feed on organic materials like feathers and introduce harmful microorganisms to specimens. Having up-to-date powder-coated steel cabinetry with a total seal to keep pests from the collections is vital for conservation, according to Ashley Kempken, Collections Manager of Birds. The collections team has also implemented a freezer treatment protocol to kill potential pests on collections objects after they have been used by researchers or in exhibits.

Natural acidity and chemicals can also impact the conservation of specimens. Correct storage of specimens requires using the appropriate archival containers, as chemical reactions from storage materials can easily damage collections over time. Researchers can use methods such as a pH pen to spot check acidity in materials that hold specimens.

Vouchering for Science

A voucher is a specimen that is permanently kept and maintained in a collection and serves as evidence of a species present at a place and time. A voucher can be thought of as a scientific receipt documenting that an organism was found at a particular location on a particular date. Voucher specimens are most often used to verify identifications, but also serve as an invaluable resource for other scientific studies.

Voucher your specimens with us!

Our collections provide a baseline of biodiversity for research projects. Vouchering physical specimens into permanent and managed collections like those at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science ensures a proper documentation of biodiversity and consistency of research.

To voucher a specimen at the museum, please contact the Collections & Research staff.

For mollusks and other invertebrates:

For birds and mammals:

About the Collections

The collections at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science consists of over 2 million mollusk specimens and more than 113,000 bird specimens. Many have been vouchered over the years to help provide a permanent reference of organisms. After they are identified, they are cataloged and given a number for easy access and sharing through virtual databases.

Documenting and digitizing the data enables scientists from all over the world to use our collections for their research. Here are two examples of vouchered specimens:

A search for this osprey skull (Pandion haliaetus) through an online data portal by its catalog number (DMNH 82409) reveals it was collected in 1994 near Bethany Beach, DE, and vouchered to the museum.

The bird skin, skeleton, and tissue collections are fully databased and searchable online through iDigBioVertNet and GBIF.org

This ribbed mussel (Geukensia demissa) specimen (DMNH 231836) was collected in the Mispillion Harbor in Milford, DE in 2006.

The mollusk collection is digitized on iDigBio and InvertEBase.

These Brachioteuthis beanii came from the Gully Marine Protected Area off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. They were part of 44 lots of 245 specimens that were vouchered at the museum in 2007 and continue to be used in research.

Thousands of Mollusks added to the museum’s scientific collections in 2023

Mollusk collections often stem from exploration, whether on a global or local scale. Personal collections frequently find their way to museums, especially when accompanied by available data. Our holdings have recently expanded with two significant acquisitions.

During the past summer, Kathryn Eickhoff-Smith generously donated the Read family collection, comprising approximately 10,000 marine and land snail shells from worldwide origins. This collection embodies the collecting endeavors of sisters Ella Howard Read (1845-1914) and Clara Anne Read (1850-1928) from Massachusetts.

While they didn’t gather the snails themselves, they likely acquired or traded for these shells through connections to their family’s involvement in whaling operations in New Bedford. These shells, treasured for their beauty and novelty, were showcased in exquisite custom-made cabinets, a common practice of that era. The specimens were transported back to the museum still in the cabinet drawers by Mollusk Senior Collections Manager Alex Kittle (pictured below) who drove to Naples, Florida to pick up the collection last fall.

The Read sisters’ father was associated with the Willimantic Linen Company, and many of the smaller shells were stored in boxes produced during the latter half of the nineteenth century with the company’s logo. The image below shows the label on one of these small boxes.

The second collection originates from Laura Zeller, a longstanding shell collector based in the Baltimore area. Comprising 210 lots of tiny specimens, this collection primarily features specimens from the United States, Thailand, and other distant locations.

The next step for both collections involves matching the shells with their respective data. While the Zeller collection benefits from an index and notecards, the Read family collection presents a greater challenge, potentially requiring collaboration with other museums to piece together details such as possible collection dates. 

Community Read

In 2024, we again join local libraries and community partners for the eleventh year of the Longwood Gardens’ Community Read — a program designed to encourage reading for pleasure and start a conversation. For the upcoming year, we offer a variety of programs to enjoy these amazing selections.

The Secret Garden

In the children’s book, The Secret Garden, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the characters discover a secret all their own.

The Last Garden in England

In the book, The Last Garden in England, by Julia Kelly, we follow multiple women over time who come to appreciate the same garden.

Both books are available for purchase in the museum store!

Mobile Museum Outreach Program

In the children’s book, The Secret Garden, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the characters discover a secret all their own.

As part of the Longwood Gardens Community Read Program, the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science comes to you. This program is great for organizations such as libraries, daycares, after-school groups, and classrooms.

Who doesn’t love a secret? The Secret Garden will come to you with one of our educators. Learn to love the outdoors through this interactive hour including an interactive book reading, a scene-setting 10×10 tent, and plenty of touchable specimens. Be prepared to get dirty hands!

$150 per program, maximum 25 participants.

Events

Canvas, Conversations & Chamomile

Wednesday, May 8 | 1 p.m.

Seniors, join us as we discuss The Last Garden in England while painting your own work of art related to the book. Jess Myers, a scientist and artist, offers her painting and nature expertise. Even if you didn’t read the book, join us for lively conversation, creating a work of art, and tasty nibbles. Pre-registration required. Pre-registration required.

$30 per person

Fairy Tale Saturday

Saturday, April 27 | 10 a.m.

Dress up as your favorite fairy tale character and join Ms. Ofelia (dressed as a character herself) for storytime, followed by a variety of themed activities throughout the museum, including a floral craft, a blooming science experiment of color, a bug identification station, and more. Preregistration suggested.

$3/DelMNS members, $17/non-members (ages 3 and up), $7/non-member toddlers (ages 1-2). Price includes admission for the day.

New bird species discovered through scientific collections

Natural history collections are full of surprises, with scientists updating what is known about different species and uncovering new ones.

Dr. Matthew Halley, Assistant Curator of Birds, is the lead author of a recently-published paper that splits the Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus fuscater) into seven different species and four subspecies — including a newly-described species from eastern Panamá: the Darién Nightingale-thrush (Catharus arcanus).

Photo of Matthew Halley by Jenna McCullough

These genetically distinct populations live in secluded mountain rainforests in Central and South America and began to diverge from each other nearly three million years ago.

The species look very similar to an untrained eye. To document their differences, Dr. Halley and his team sequenced DNA from multiple populations, studied physical features like plumage color, iris color and bill color, and analyzed differences in their vocalizations.

Dr. Halley shared the findings on his Twitter (now X) account. Read on for a summary, along with some of the figures from the paper:

This figure shows the geographic distribution of the C. [fuscater] complex in Central and South America. Lines point to type localities. The variation in shapes denote sampling locations for different molecular data. Shape size is correlated with the number of samples (1–3).

The C. fuscater complex (Turdidae) is composed of several disjunct populations that inhabit cloudy mountain rainforests, ranging from Costa Rica to Bolivia. These birds are diabolically shy and more often heard than seen. Their song is a series of sweet, musical whistles.

The research identified 10 genetically distinct populations that have been evolving independently for multiple glacial cycles. Molecular clock suggests most lineages diverged in early Pleistocene / late Pliocene— ancient lineages with independent evolutionary trajectories.

This figure shows taxonomic variation in the structure of ‘punctuation calls’, visualized in RavenPro 1.5 (Cornell University), recognizing three groups based on shared acoustic structure: (Type 1) pulsed/rippling: C. [f.] hellmayri, Undescribed 1 (now C. arcanus), C. [f.] mirabilis; (Type 2) long/sinuous: C. [f.] sanctaemartae, C. [f.] fuscater, C. [f.] berplepschi; (Type 3) short/simple: Undescribed 2 (now C. o. tenebris), C. [f.] opertaneus, Undescribed 3 (now C. b. nebulus), C. [f.] mentalis.

Populations were divergent in the acoustic structure of three different call types, which are presumed to be innately acquired (i.e., not learned), and there were subtle differences among populations in song structure, which is presumably learned.

This image is a side view of polychromatic adult plumages in C. [f.] mentalis (from left to right): 1, FMNH 433742, a ‘grey’ male with enlarged testes; 2, FMNH 433738, a ‘brown’ male with enlarged testes; 3, FMNH 364458, a ‘brown’ male with testes not enlarged; 4, FMNH 433740, an adult female with an enlarged ovary. Adults of both colour types (FMNH 433742, 433738) were collected at the same site in November
2001.

Halley traveled to the American Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Natural History to study their C. fuscater specimens, and borrowed specimens from the Field Museum, LSU Museum of Natural Science, and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, bringing them to the museum to look at sexual and age-related differences in plumage color.

This image shows ventral and dorsal views of the adult male plumages in C. b. berlepschi, C. b. caniceps, C. o. tenebris ssp. nov., C. b. nebulus ssp. nov., and C. mentalis.

With a large sample of study skins assembled under one light source (flat panel LED), subtle differences between populations, difficult to appreciate in the field, became easier to notice — Halley scored this variation by comparing the specimens to published color standards.

The taxonomic revision splits the C. [fuscater] complex into seven species, of which one is newly described, and four subspecies, of which two are newly described (C. opertaneus tenebris, C. berlepschi nebulus). New English names were proposed for each species. The seven species are:

Talamanca Nightingale-thrush (Catharus hellmayri) – monotypic – Northern mountains of Costa Rica (Rincón de la Vieja, Miravalles, Tenorio) to west-central Panama (Parque Nacional Santa Fé, Veraguas). (Photo: alchetron.com)
Darién Nightingale-thrush (Catharus arcanus, sp. nov.) – monotypic – E Panama, endemic to Serranía de Majé and Serranía del Darién, from Cerro Azul in the west, to Cerro Tacarcuna in the east
Pirre Nightingale-thrush (Catharus mirabilis) – monotypic – Endemic to Cerro Pirre, Darién province, E Panama. (Photo: ML 242929041)
Cordilleran Nightingale-thrush (Catharus fuscater) – polytypic – (1) C. f. sanctaemartae, endemic to Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, NE Colombia; (2) C. f. fuscater, Sierra de Perijá of Venezuela, N and E Andes of Colombia and Venezuela. (Photo: ML 206115721)
Trans-Andean Nightingale-thrush (Catharus berlepschi) – polytypic – (1) C. b. berlepschi, W Andes in Ecuador; (2) C. b. caniceps, W Andes in Ecuador, S to NW Peru; (3) C. b. nebulus, ssp. nov., E Peruvian Andes. (Photo: ML 38468741)
Antioquia Nightingale-thrush (Catharus opertaneus) – polytypic – (1) C. o. opertaneus, NW and Central Andes in Colombia, S to Napo, Ecuador; (2) C. o. tenebris, ssp. nov., Río Chinchipe watershed of N Peru and SE Ecuador
Cochabamba Nightingale-thrush (Catharus mentalis) – monotypic – S Peru, east of the Río Apurímac, E to Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Note: Monotypic species are not divided into subspecies. Polytypic species can be divided into at least two subspecies.

Halley, M. R., Catanach, T. A., Klicka, J., and J. D. Weckstein. 2023. Integrative taxonomy reveals hidden diversity in the Catharus fuscater (Passeriformes: Turdidae) complex in Central and South America. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society zlad031. LINK

If you are unable to access the paper and would like a copy, please email Matt Halley.

Learn more about Dr. Halley’s research projects and publications on his website.

The du Pont Trophy

Connecting art with science: the du Pont Trophy original paintings by artist Lauren J. Sweeney

For more than 50 years, the museum has presented the du Pont Trophy Award to the “overall outstanding exhibit” entered at shell shows around the country. The award honors exceptional citizen scientists having a passion for shells, shell collecting, and the natural history of mollusks.

For the majority of its history, the du Pont Trophy was a simple engraved plaque. As part of the Museum’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2012, Director of Collections and Curator of Mollusks, Liz Shea, Ph.D. re-imagined the award to celebrate the variety in the museum’s vast collection of more than two million mollusks. She turned to long-time museum supporter and local artist, Lauren J. Sweeney, Ph.D. to make this vision a reality. The result is an original watercolor highlighting a different shell from the collection each year. A framed limited-edition, signed print of this commission is presented to the du Pont Trophy winners.

Lauren Sweeney’s paintings are informed by a lifetime of scientific observation. Originally a biologist who focused her talents on research, teaching, and scientific illustrations, Lauren is now a full-time artist. Her attention to detail brings the shape, color, texture, and pattern of her subjects into sharp focus. Lauren has exhibited her work in the greater Philadelphia area, including the Sketch Club, Gallery Twenty Two, and the Main Line Art Center.

For more information about the artist, visit www.inliquid.org.

The original paintings, currently on exhibit, are for sale for $600 to benefit the museum’s collections.

2023 duPont Trophy

Lambis lambis

The 2023 du Pont Trophy features the changing morphology of Lambis lambis. These dramatically different stages are symbolic of the major metamorphosis the museum experienced over the past few years. The Delaware Museum of Nature and Science reopened to the public in May 2022 with completely renovated exhibit spaces.

2022 duPont Trophy

Melongena corona

This painting depicts the marine snail Melongena corona as positioned on Curator of Mollusks Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.’s kitchen table. The specimen (and setting) was chosen in recognition of the chaotic year ushered in by COVID.

SOLD

2020 du Pont Trophy

Spirula spirula

This painting features the internal shell of Spirula spirula, a deep sea cephalopod commonly referred to as ram’s horn squid. They are more often collected as shells than as live organisms. S. spirula was selected for the painting in recognition of research projects conducted by Widener University students.

2019 du Pont Trophy

Tellina radiata

This specimen of Tellina radiata, a bivalve mollusk commonly known as the Sunrise Tellin, is from the Alison Bradford collection, bequeathed to the museum by Alison Bradford, a longtime volunteer and member of the Board of Trustees. Bradford had been at the museum for over 30 years. She passed away in the summer of 2018 and transferred her collection of more than 1,000 shells to the museum, most collected in Gasparilla Island, Florida, where she owned a home. 

2018 du Pont Trophy

Haliotis fulgens Philippi

The pearlescent marine sea snail abalone is the inspiration for the 2018 du Pont Trophy, featuring two specimens of the green abalone Haliotis fulgens Philippi, 1845 (DMNH 10958). These specimens have a beautiful nacreous layer and were selected by the museum’s first Mollusk Curator, R. Tucker Abbott, for illustration in the second edition of American Seashells. Published in 1974, the book is an essential resource for shell lovers and an important part of the museum’s history.

SOLD

2017 du Pont Trophy

Liguus crenatus variation

The 2017 du Pont trophy was based on shells owned by renowned Delaware illustrator Frank Schoonover, a gift from one of his most well-known clients, Irénée du Pont, owner of Granogue in Delaware and the fabled Xanadu mansion in Cuba, where the shells were collected. The shells were donated to the museum in December 2015 by Schoonover’s grandson John Schoonover.

2016 du Pont Trophy

Anodonta imbecilis from Florida

This year’s shell is a group of freshwater bivalves, commonly known as Paper Pondshells, collected in Lake Talquin, Florida in 1954. Freshwater bivalves are the focus of a recent National Science Foundation grant that will help the museum share its collections on the web.

2015 du Pont Trophy

Leporicypraea mappa variation

The museum’s mollusk collection contains over 250,000 boxes (or “lots”) of shells, making it one of the largest collections in North America. The Map Cowries in this painting highlight the depth of the museum’s holdings and the variation found within a single species.

2014 du Pont Trophy

Spondylus with data label

New collections come into the museum from many sources, often accompanied by old data labels. This specimen of Thorny Oyster is a beautiful and ornate U.S. species, complete with an interesting original data card.

2013 du Pont Trophy

Scaphella junonia on sand

Finding a Junonia on the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast is cause for celebration. This composition highlights the popular marine snail resting on a background of sand collected from Boca Grande, Florida by long-time museum trustee and volunteer Alison Bradford.

SOLD

2012 du Pont Trophy

Festilyria duponti holotype

The subject of the first watercolor is Festilyria duponti, a shell named by Clifton Stokes Weaver in honor of Delaware Museum of Natural History founder, John E. du Pont. The background is a representation of a technical book on shells, co-authored by du Pont and Weaver.

Soundscapes

Sound is a distinct part of an ecosystem. The soundscapes in the galleries are designed to add another level to the immersive experience – they aren’t just background noise! Many of the species that can be viewed in the exhibits have a corresponding sound in the gallery’s soundscape.

In an ecosystem, sounds are part of an animal’s habitat, offering clues about the surrounding environment as well as being a tool to communicate with others. For example, when a hawk flies by and screams, mice and other rodents nearby will scurry away.

Some of the sounds used in the soundscapes came from the Macaulay Library at Cornell University, which features the largest archive of animal sounds in the world, with new material constantly uploaded. For example, the Pileated Woodpecker sound, heard as part of the Regional Journey’s Temperate Forest soundscape, was initially recorded locally and uploaded to the Macaulay Library by Dr. Matthew Halley, the museum’s Assistant Curator of Birds. These resources help power Cornell’s Merlin app, which can be used by bird watchers in the field to identify birds by photo and sound.

Listen to Dr. Matthew Halley, the museum’s Assistant Curator of Birds, talk about the soundscapes in the Regional Journey Gallery and what we can learn from the sounds we hear.

Transcript: Regional Journey Soundscapes

Hi. Welcome to the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science Regional Journey Gallery. My name is Matthew Halley, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the soundscapes that we hear today in our gallery.

We’ve got multiple habitats that are found in the mid-Atlantic region, a deciduous forest, temperate forest habitat. We have the Delaware Bay and salt marshes and the cypress swamp, and each of these habitats has a different soundscape.

We hear different animals and different crashing waves or the rustling of the leaves. There’s all sorts of sounds that are happening in nature.

When we go into these habitats and the animals are calling out for different reasons that scientists like to argue about, about whether they’re saying, here I am, here I am, or they’re staking a claim to a certain area and resources, or maybe they’re trying to attract a mate or attract some companions.

But regardless of the reason, these animals have to live in a in a soundscape and they listen to all these different sounds and they react to the sounds in their life, which helps them to survive. And when the hawk flies over and gives its scream, you can be sure that the mice that are under the hawk are scurrying into a safe corner.

So, birds make different kinds of sounds and scientists call them calls or songs. But we don’t have any clear-cut definitions for those words. Some sounds are shorter and less complex, such as when a Blue Jay goes “jay…jay.”
Other songs are a lot more complicated. When the robin is singing, it’s warbling song going on and on. It seems like it doesn’t repeat itself very often.

And then we have the mockingbird, which, you know, can go on for an hour, and we don’t hear anything from the same. You know, it’s constantly coming up with new syllables in its song so that we might think of that as kind of a gradient of complexity in bird vocalizations. And one of the things that some that scientists have figured out is that some vocalizations are learned and other vocalizations seem not to be learned.

So, the Phoebe that makes it’s Phoebe, Phoebe call that will develop normally in a baby Phoebe, without hearing an adult. If it grows up in an acoustic isolation chamber, that little Phoebe is still going to say “Phoebe, Phoebe.”

And it’s going to be indistinguishable from a baby Phoebe that grew up in a forest full of Phoebes.
But some other songs: here we’ve got the wood thrush singing in the soundscape, the wood thrush, that flute section in the middle of its song. When you raise a wood thrush in isolation that’s middle, part of the song gets kind of flat and unmusical. And so, it seems that the wood thrush needs to grow up around other wood thrushes to have a tutor to learn how to sing its song correctly.

And when I say correctly, I mean just to sing to produce a normal song that will achieve the functions of the song, whatever they may be, whether it’s territorial defense or attracting a mate. The more your song deviates from the normal, that might have an effect on whether you’re successful surviving or reproducing.

Regional Journey

Four rotating soundscapes in the Regional Journey feature many of the birds seen in the exhibits. Listen closely: there’s also a frog, squirrel, and a fishing reel!

Global Journey

In the Alison K. Bradford Global Journey Gallery, soundscapes including a variety of birds, mammals, and insects rotating through the land-based ecosystems.