Many people use the mnemonic “witchety, witchety, witchety” to describe and recall the whistled phrases of the song of the Common Yellowthroat. Listen for the stereotypical “witchety” song below which was recorded at Blueberry Hill just off the Schoodic Loop drive (so you’ll hear the surf on the rocky shore, and a buoy bell, as well, adding a sense of place to the recording).
Yet Nathan Pieplow aptly notes in Peterson’s Field Guides to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America, that the song of the Common Yellowthroat is “distinctive, but highly variable.” This might explain why some birders and recordists in fact say they do often do not hear the “witchety” phrasing that is recited in the classic mnemonic.
Here is one such variation, distinctively Common Yellowthroat but not quite the stereotypical “witchety” phrasing many are told to listen for. It can make it more challenging for new ear birders to identify, though such challenges can be half the fun of learning. It is also why spectrograms can be helpful — to help you see similarities and differences in what you are hearing.
Here is another slight variation of the Common Yellowthroat.
I even captured a significantly different song of the Common Yellowthroat, which you can see and hear for yourself below. If I had not been looking at the bird –with its distinctive black mask– with my own eyes, I don’t think I would have guessed it was a Common Yellowthroat. In fact, I began to doubt my own eyes and asked many friends I consider to be experts to confirm. They agreed that while the song is atypical, it is indeed Common Yellowthroat. Later I researched other recordings in the Macaulay Library of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, and found Common Yellowthroat songs exactly patterned like this one. These songs were not common, but thanks to other recordists and the Macaulay Library, they were there, documented for me and others to discover and learn more about the Common Yellowthroat!