Tallgrass Pipers

In 2005, Ted Mack and I went on a recording expedition that began on the East coast and extended west to Texas and north through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Manitoba. Along the way we captured a number of compelling soundscapes.

photo of the Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma

One of my favorites from that journey is Ted’s recording of a dawn chorus at the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northern Oklahoma, near the Kansas border. It features the musical flight songs of “Tallgrass Pipers,” more commonly known as Upland Sandpipers—their song starts with a gurgling rising trill and ends with a clear downward whistle:

Dawn chorus in tallgrass prairie, 4:30 am, 14 May 2005, the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Recorded by Ted Mack.

I think this recording really captures the essence of the tallgrass prairie soundscape. Along with the occasional flight songs of the sandpipers (especially in the second half), Dickcissels and Eastern Meadowlarks sing prominently. Listen also for the whistled calls of Northern Bobwhites, as well as the sputters of meadowlarks. Less obvious are the high-pitched insect-like songs of Grasshopper Sparrow.

Tallgrass prairie soundscapes are often “high-ended,” meaning that the majority of birds sing at fairly high frequencies. This recording works for my ears because of the sandpipers—their gurgling and whistling flight songs are fairly low in pitch, providing a musical “bottom end” to the listening experience. This helps ground the recording, which otherwise might be a little too high-pitched and ethereal.

What does everyone think? Is this recording nicely-balanced as-is? Or should I do a little tweaking to make it more “listenable”? Perhaps the pipers are a little too loud? Or maybe they’re just-right? You tell me!


  1. I hear Dickcissels, bobwhites, eastern meadowlarks, Upland Sandpipers, Grasshopper Sparrows,and an American Crow.

    I swear I heard an Upland Sandpiper from a distance while at Baker Sanctuary, on October 7, 2011. If it was an Upland Sandpiper, that’s a new heard only bird for me. The eerie quality of the whistle creeped me out.

  2. Perhaps the pipers are just a touch too loud, but not much. I loved the recording and absolutely adore this site. I plan to tell all my birding friends about it.

  3. I like the theme that is developing here with these soundscapes. A de-emphasis on individual events, and a greater emphasis on textures.

    A very nice mix of species. It’s amazing that they compose themselves. A self organizing orchestra.

  4. I don’t think the pipers too loud. I’ve never heard them before and they really have a neat sound that deserves to be showcased. I like being able to hear things I wouldn’t normally be able to hear. I just want you to know how much I’ve been enjoying these soundscapes as well as the rest of the site. I talk about it all the time.

  5. I don’t know. Maybe the pipers are a bit too loud. I can compare them to being surrounded by a whole bunch of white crowned sparrows, they can drive you to distraction. I tend to really try and pick out the backgrounds in life, just afraid I’m missing something.
    I know, it’s not real helpful.

    • Kirk – I have already lowered some of the louder notes in the sandpiper songs, just to take the edge off. I’ll listen again before I commit this one to a production, and perhaps then I will decide push back the loudest three or four sandpiper songs.

  6. I really love this site — just found it today. I was looking for a website to help me distinguish birdcalls, and found it on youtube first. Have already forwarded it on – esp to my parents who are wintering in a condo in Chicago.

    Blessings to you!

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