Kenn Kaufman explains why waterthrushes sing so loud

3/20/2015 | 0


Northern Waterthrush near Chicago, Illinois, by spiecks.

Kenn Kaufman’s column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. In our April 2015 issue, Kenn’s tips were all about recognizing Northern Waterthrush (pictured above) and Louisiana Waterthrush. He also included the following discussion of the loudness of the warblers’ songs:

Streamside vocalists

The two species of water­thrush have distinctly different songs, but both are strikingly loud compared with most warblers. There’s a reason why it would be an advantage for the birds to turn up the volume: Their habitat is often domi­nated by rushing water. The sound would drown out lesser vocalists. Similarly loud voices are characteristic of other birds that live in this kind of habitat. One is American Dipper, which blasts out its loud song and metallic calls over the din of streams flowing in our western mountains.

American Dipper in Le Hardy Rapids, Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park by sfisher.

American Dipper in Le Hardy Rapids, Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park by sfisher.

See photos of American Dipper.

Streamside monitors

Louisiana Waterthrushes living along streams do more than just make birders happy; they also serve as indicators of environmental quality. Studies in locations as diverse as Pennsylvania, Georgia, and southeastern Minnesota have found a clear connection between the presence of the species and the health of ecosystems. In places where pollution or acid runoff from mines had affected the streams, the birds were absent or present in reduced numbers with reduced breeding suc­cess. Since the species sings so loudly, it can be surveyed quickly and easily, with much less effort than taking numer­ous water samples from streams and rivers. In fact, the National Park Service is now using data on the distribution of Louisiana Waterthrush as one way of monitoring eastern watersheds. — Kenn Kaufman, Contributing Editor

Kenn Kaufman’s column “ID Tips,” featuring the photographs of Brian E. Small, appears in every issue of BirdWatching. The article above is an excerpt of a column that ran in our April 2015 issue. Subscribe.

Read other articles by and about Kenn Kaufman.

Meet Kenn Kaufman in Delaware in March 2015.

See photos of Northern Waterthrush.

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