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Science & Environment

Ornithologists Uncover One Listener's Shy Backyard Tweeter

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's a lesson in how much you can learn from a sound, a sound heard outside Medellin, Colombia, the first sound of nature we are featuring as we invite your recordings of species you would like help identifying.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Listener Nathaniel Folk (ph) from Colombia writes this (reading) the boulevard in front of my apartment follows a stream, verdant with tropical trees and vegetation. Almost every morning I hear a distinctive bird call like a person whistling. It starts almost every morning around 5:30 a.m. and usually stops by 8.

INSKEEP: OK, let's listen to what Nathaniel Folk hears.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

INSKEEP: Wow, that does sound like a person whistling. Our job was to identify the sound. Jessie Barry, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, quickly recognized this bird as one of her favorites.

GREENE: Here's a recording she used to confirm her guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCALY-BREASTED WREN WHISTLING)

JESSIE BARRY: This is a song of the Scaly-breasted Wren, sometimes also called Southern Nightingale-wren.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCALY-BREASTED WREN WHISTLING)

BARRY: Now, this is a bird that you often hear more than you see. They're very secretive, staying hidden near the forest floor most of the time. Its haunting and unforgettable song is a slow series of pure tone whistles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCALY-BREASTED WREN WHISTLING)

INSKEEP: So there you have it, the Scaly-breasted Wren (whistling). That was me actually.

GREENE: That was lovely.

INSKEEP: And Jessie Barry, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, helped us to solve the mystery for listener Nathaniel Folk.

GREENE: And Steve will be doing sounds to help us solve all these mysteries - maybe. Is there a wildlife sound that you want some help identifying? Use your smartphone to record at least a minute of the natural world in your backyard. Send the file to nprcrowdsource@npr.org with the subject line decode nature, and for more on this project, follow the hashtag #decodenature on Twitter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.