Heard for the First Time

Song Sparrow

I’ve always assumed that the first description of the vocalizations of the song sparrow was Alexander Wilson’s in the American Ornithology.

The notes, or chant, are short but very sweet, resembling the beginning of the Canary’s song.

I’ve been wrong. A dozen years before Wilson even thought about coming to America, Thomas Pennant in his account of the bird not only mentioned but transcribed the common call in English syllables — not the song, but the call, that familiar husky chirp,

shep, shep.

Pennant, working from specimens sent from the US by Ashton Blackburn, tells us that the bird is

called in New York, the Shepherd, from its note.

Something new, every day.