If you arrived here from the “Mystery sound” post, the answer is…Tufted Titmouse
In the 1990s, on a visit to Concord, Massachusetts, I was struck by how different the Tufted Titmice sounded from the ones I was used to in New Jersey. They were capable of singing the typical “peter-peter-peter” song, but many of them sang a series of odd single-syllabed phrases, or choppy multi-syllabled phrases, and other variations that were only vaguely titmouse-like. Also, a lot of these abnormal phrases were shared by multiple birds in the neighborhood.
My recording from Concord (linked here) is one very distinctive variation, but there are many others.
After I moved to Concord I always meant to look into Titmouse song variation more deeply, and this spring (2012) I finally paid enough attention to notice that these variant songs are used through the middle the day, while during the dawn chorus the same individual birds use typical and very uniform “peter” songs.
This suggests that the two song types serve different functions. Of course, when I searched the literature I found that Schroeder and Wiley (1983) had documented all of this already. They classified Titmouse songs into three categories, or themes, and found that theme 1 was the dominant sound for the first hour of the day (the typical “peter” songs). Theme 3 is the most unlike typical songs, and is heard more in the mid-morning, just what I had observed. They found that it is used mainly in interactions between males, and that males often match songs and counter-sing back and forth using theme 3 songs.
There must be a lot of information communicated to other titmice by these different songs and the ways they are used, and the song-sharing and counter-singing by males is a recipe for geographic variation. I suspected regional dialects the first time I heard the odd song in Concord, but the species has only been resident in Massachusetts for about 70 years. Nevertheless, below are a series of recordings suggesting that these “theme 3” songs show significant regional variations.
I’m interested to hear from others. Do you hear songs like the Massachusetts recordings in your region? What, if any, variants are heard there?
First, an absolutely typical song from Arkansas
A variation of the “peter” song from Tennessee
and a higher-pitched song from Louisiana
Here is a song nearly identical to the one I recorded in Concord, but a much cleaner recording, from Hampshire, MA, about 70 miles west of Concord
An odd song from Michigan, presumably one of the local variants, although the recordist commented on the unusual sound, and I never hear anything like this in Massachusetts.
From Arkansas, another odd song, presumably one of the local variations there. In this case the recordist commented on the low pitch,but says this song variant was “common in the area”. Again, I never hear anything like this in Massachusetts.
From Wisconsin, one odd song
Schroeder, D. J. and R. H. Wiley. 1983. Communication with Shared Song Themes in Tufted Titmice Parus bicolor Auk 100:414-424. http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v100n02/p0414-p0424.pdf