Tallgrass Symphony

photo of Taberville Prairie Conservation Area (MO Dept. of Conservation photo)Soundscapes from tallgrass prairie are alive with sound. The problem is finding good places to record. Many prairie refuges are small wildlife management areas surrounded on all sides by busy roads, offering considerable frustration to the nature recordist. For this reason, I home-in on larger tracts, such as the 1360-acre Tabervile Prairie Conservation Area in west-central Missouri (it is one of the state’s largest remaining tallgrass prairies).

The following soundscape, which I recorded near a hedgerow at the edge of the preserve, is chock-full of bird song. The species that stands out the most is Henslow’s Sparrow—its high-pitched insect-like tslick! can be heard clearly against a backdrop that includes the songs of Field Sparrow, Dickcissel, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Northern Cardinal. Listen also for the occasional chuckles of a Southern Leopard Frog. Note that I’ve included a brief narrated introduction:

Dawn chorus featuring songs of Henslow’s Sparrow and many other species. 5 am, 12 May 2005, Taberville Prairie Conservation Area in west-central Missouri. Recorded by Lang Elliott.

All prairie soundscapes are music to my ears. The emotions they evoke are complicated. On the one hand, I appreciate the extraordinary array of sounds purely from the standpoint of their artistic merit. On the other hand, I am struck by how few tallgrass prairie patches survive, and I find myself longing for the days when they, and their corresponding soundscapes, stretched for miles in all directions.

This is a busy soundscape, and some may find it a little dense. Others may be bothered by the closest Henslow’s Sparrow, or else the nearby cardinal when it comes in; both of these may be a little loud (please let me know if you have this response; I can always lower the offenders). But all in all, I am thrilled by this catch. The astounding variety of birds singing excitedly at the break of dawn conveys how full of life the prairie can be, and invokes a sense of joy and appreciation for this natural wonder.

NOTE: You may be surprised to hear my voiced introduction in the recording. This is an experiment concerning how to “brand” these soundscape productions so as to develop name recognition and popularize “old-miracle.mystagingwebsite.com.” This is especially helpful if I post these soundscapes in other places, such as on Facebook, where the source could easily be lost or ignored. Let me know what you think about this. Can you endure listening each time to a 30 second introduction by yours truly? As the recording loads, you can avoid listening to me by clicking on the sonogram after the section with my voice—the recording will immediately jump to that position.


  1. I hear the Henslow’s Sparrows, Dickcissels, Yellow-Breasted Chat, and the Northern Cardinals, as well as the Southern Leopard Frog. In addition, I hear an American Crow, and possibly a Pileated Woodpecker.

    What a beautiful recording. I can just never get enough of this website.

  2. I appreciate the verbal detail, and as you say, we can navigate past it for successive listenings. The density of this one captivates, compels me to be immersed in Prairie. One of my pet rabbits hears these with me and his face as he listens suggests his winter nights have sweet dreams of spring and summer, thanks to you.

  3. Hi Lang. Your experiment with branding the soundscapes works. I understand the reason for the short intro and like hearing it; it’s not intrusive at all.

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