THE ‘SONG’ my bird-mad friend Ellen and I are “singing” via email across a continent this early spring is, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Avian voices are tuning up for another breeding season; we’re listening, gratefully, and exchanging sound bites of our own about who’s adding what notes to the growing chorus.
Ellen—part of the BirdNote public-radio show team and my collaborator on a series of bird-related stories—is the person I always tell about new birds or other avian happenings out my window, even though I’m in the Hudson Valley of New York and she’s in Seattle.
“Is it starting out there?” I asked as March began, just in from a session of crawling around to cut back hellebore foliage, accompanied by mourning dove (above), chickadee and titmouse songs.
“Yes,” was the quick answer, in an email with a photo of Ellen’s own tidied-up hellebores—all in full bloom, way ahead of mine. Also in her email: the local weather report, and list of current voices she’s hearing.
“The occasional spring-like days in the Pacific Northwest—after an un-winter-like (but record-wet) winter—make it a joy to be in the garden,” Ellen wrote, “even when all I’m doing is deadheading things or cleaning up the mess.” (On my coast, the winter was a non-winter, almost no snow, with little prolonged cold.)
“I know some of the songs we’re hearing, East and West, are different, Margaret,” Ellen added, “but some are the same or close cousins.”
Let’s compare (green links will send you to short BirdNote audio programs about each species):
ellen’s list so far
- song sparrows
- spotted towhees (“I grew up in the Midwest with what is now the Eastern towhee, so I’m familiar with that song,” she wrote. The spotted towhee, photo above, has what Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls, “ a drier, faster take on the Eastern towhee’s drink-your-tea” song.)
- dark-eyed juncos trilling
- ruby-crowned kinglet (“They’re getting out just the first few wispy notes—you wouldn’t know what it was if you…didn’t know what it was,” she added.)
- some warbler-y things (“Yellow-rump and one I can’t yet place,” was Ellen’s report.)
- people nearby have heard the white-crowned sparrow, too (“See me, pretty, pretty me,” it sings.)
And then she remembered one more early voice: the Bewick’s wren.
Apparently a young Master Birder friend once told Ellen, “If there’s something singing in your backyard and you don’t know what it is, it’s a Bewick’s wren.”
In the Northeast we don’t have the Bewick’s (above), and the house wren hasn’t shown up and told me off yet with that incessant chatter it makes. I did sight my first Carolina wren in months today (March 10), along with a pair of bluebirds.
Where I live, I wrote back, if you hear someone singing and don’t know who it is, it’s a red-eyed vireo. Not around yet in 2016 that I have heard—but when they return, it’s pretty much nonstop vocalizing. Like, um, up to 22,000 times in a 10-hour period, the experts say (photo below).
margaret’s list as of march 10
Ellen’s right; we have some of the same birds and some close cousins, despite our geographic difference. I will hear (and see) the Eastern towhee, various warblers, and the golden-crowned kinglet before long, but not yet. So far the list:
- mourning doves
- black-capped chickadee, with it’s “hey, sweetie” song (not just its chattery calls)
- tufted titmice
- Northern cardinals
- white-throated sparrow
- dark-eyed juncos
- American goldfinches calling, like lots of squeaky, chaotic chatter
- song sparrow (first one in the garden since last fall showed up and began March 9)
- …punctuated by the occasional “who cooks for you” of the barred owl, lots of woodpecker drumming from multiple species, and the usual loudmouth blue jay goings-on
By the time I hit the “publish” key on this story, I suspect the list will have grown on both coasts. Who’s singing so far in your garden? Do tell.
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Meantime, listen to BirdNote’s latest podcast on the player below, or by visiting their website, where you can subscribe to the podcast or RSS, free. More than 100 public radio stations playing BirdNote are listed here; if you like what you hear, why not ask your local station if they’ll carry it.
The BirdNote backstory: In 2002, the then-executive director of Seattle Audubon heard a short public-radio show called StarDate. “We could do that with birds,” she thought. In 2005 the idea became a two-minute daily public-radio show. Lucky for all of us!
(Photos of song sparrow, spotted towhee, Bewick’s wren copyright Mike Hamilton; mourning dove and red-eyed vireo by Joanne Kamo. Used with permission.)