Bird singing is one of the time-honored rituals at the heart of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians' cultural heritage. Bird songs are a way to share the history, stories, culture, and language of the tribe’s ancestors. The bird song rhythms are created with gourd rattles filled with dried palm seeds. The seeds originate from the area’s Washingtonia filifera, the only palm tree native to the California desert and abundant in the tribe’s ancestral lands in the Indian Canyons.  

Bird songs share the stories of the Cahuilla migration long ago and the lessons learned along the journey — the knowledge, the culture, and the traditions — to be shared with future generations. The songs sung in the Cahuilla language describe the landscapes, the weather, and the animals that the people saw and experienced along the way. 

Traditionally, the Cahuilla bird songs include more than 300 songs, sung in order from dusk to dawn over multiple days. Singers perform in a line with the leader at the center. It’s common during the songs for singers to break formation and dance. Boys and men sing and dance, while the girls and women dance rhythmically to the beat of the gourd rattles. 


“I call it ‘rebuilding my medicine’ because there are times of the day I don't feel as strong as I should,' says bird singer Peter Arviso Jr. "I'll come back [to the Indian Canyons] sometimes, and I'll just sit and listen to the river, and I'll sing the songs and relax and come back one with my heart.”  

Some bird song performances are open to the public. To find one of these moving performances to attend, it’s best to visit the websites of local federally recognized tribes. Links to those are below.