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birdnote duet: what early birds are you hearing so far?

05 - song sparrow singing 2THE ‘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.

Mourning Dove © Joanne Kamo“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):

12 - spotted towhee gorgeous

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.

03 - singing Bewick's wrenApparently 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).

Red-eyed Vireo 2 © Joanne Kamo

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:

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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FIND ANSWERS to other bird questions in the BirdNote show archives, or on their FieldNotes blog. All of my past interviews with BirdNote can be found at this link.

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.)

Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. MELANIE LITCHFIELD says:

    Here in our Connecticut garden we are hearing the cardinals calling..as my daughter said when she was little, “birdie birdie birdie” to each other.

  2. Doreen Tignanelli says:

    Pileated woodpeckers here in our woods in the Town of Poughkeepsie NY have been drumming and calling like crazy! Cardinals seem to be singing earlier and earlier these mornings. Yesterday, there was unseasonably high temperature of 82 degrees and last night we heard peepers.

  3. Susie says:

    I have all of your list here in Beekman and then I have starlings, hairy woodpeckers, Downey woodpeckers, red- bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, sharp-shinned Hawks , purple finches?, blue birds(all Winter eating the berries on the cedar), and the mallards are flirting in the pond down the road…

  4. Jane says:

    The red-winged blackbirds have arrived here in my upstate New York neighborhood. Also a bluebird pair, trying to chase off house sparrows who have already laid claim to a nest box. Sadly, the house sparrows seem unphased.

  5. E says:

    we heard peepers yesterday; been hearing woodpeckers drilling for a week or so; we hear / see cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves …but all went silent the day a big hawk sat in a tall norway maple in the backyard!

  6. Lorie Conrey says:

    Still enjoying the incredible sounds coming from the pileated woodpeckers who are rare visitors here…hoping the suet entices them till bugs are plentiful.
    Far too many flickers.
    Small miracle here in eastern NE to have hellebores in radiant full bloom with no snow in view. It’s been a very long time since this glorious display was seen so early…and been so vibrant.
    Welcome spring!!!!!

  7. Shelley says:

    We had a bluebird chirping away this morning around 7am sitting on one of our birdhouses! First one ever in our yard… so exciting and he was chirping from the rooftop!

  8. Deidre Betancourt says:

    I have heard more crows rousing after a redtail hawk…4 and 5 of them together chasing the poor hawk around my neighborhood. Then later the same day one of the crows flew out and went after a small diving duck on the lake. Have listened to birds since I was 7 and I’m 66 now and still get a thrill listening and watching them.

  9. Karen says:

    We have the usual contingent of early spring singing birds and frogs. But what I love to hear early in the morning are the great horned owls talking to each other…and during the day hearing the bald eagles calling as they circle high, high, up. I’ll be looking for my goldfinches soon.

    1. margaret says:

      Yes! Owls are a treat (here the barred owl is most often heard) and across the road circling the open fields I see eagles sometimes, too. Nice!

  10. In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, last month, and this month, too, had one or two Philadelphia Vireos at the suet feeders, in addition to the regular over-wintering birds: cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves, white-throated sparrows, juncos, tufted titmice, and the much rarer solo purple finch. This month, it’s been influxes of grackles, red-winged blackbirds, starlings, and cowbirds (all traveling in a flock together and emptying all the feeders at once). But also now many robins (even saw one robin eating suet yesterday, something I’ve never, ever seen before; I suppose worms are still slightly less present near the earth’s surface). Also one downey woodpecker. And don’t know if this counts, but many turkey vultures who are present here year-round, as well as crows and, of course, sea gulls of various kinds, though not at the feeders, located about 3 miles from the Atlantic. Also, overhead flocks of snow geese and Canada geese. I am sure there are rarer warblers around, but just have not seen them this year; in previous years, I’ve been thrilled to see some warblers I’d never seen before. For now, that’s about it in backyard avian observation news. When warmer, we’ll get hummingbirds, hooray!

    1. margaret says:

      I love the turkey vultures, and have only seen a couple up this way so far but soon I expect the usual big groups I enjoy in season. Lots of action at your place!

  11. Julie Abramson says:

    I heard a Cardinal singing in February which seemed early but I always hear house finches singing, then even when I lived in NYC.

  12. Debbie says:

    Lots of birds singing but the one that has our attention is the eastern bluebird. Right outside
    my window as I type here in western ct. On a window feeder.

  13. JSBB says:

    Early? We’ve heard all the regulars listed here since mid-Feb. Although someone once said, it starts just like a Mahler symphony, a few fitful calls here and there, then crescendo-ing…

    With all the activity and territorial calls, I swear bluebirds and owls, at least, are settling down to raise a brood. No peepers in suburban Boston, and thankfully no starlings, but otherwise all we’re missing is the mallards, who used to arrive about March 17.

  14. Rebecca says:

    Crows, Mockingbirds, Bluejays, Redtailed Hawks here in the Bay Area, Cali. All have something to say. I’m always looking towards the sky & upper branches of the trees.

  15. Jb says:

    Thirty or more years ago it was an extreme rarity to see a Northern Cardinal here. This early spring in Midcoast Maine there is almost an abundance of them (wishful thinking) singing brightly as the sun climbs ever higher in the sky. Pileateds, Chickadees, the Titmice, Crows are the norm and they are all here. A week ago coming in the drive from church a pair of Crows flew from the grass with beaks stuffed with old grass fluff. Now that’s an early nester!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, JB. I didn’t know that cardinals weren’t always “up there” regularly in numbers. They are lovely to see and to hear, you are correct.

  16. Charles Klaer says:

    Black Creek Altamont NY 12009 area
    Add
    Red Winged Black Birds
    Night Hawks
    Grouse
    Pileated woodpecker
    Hairy and Downy woodpeckers
    Red bellied woodpeckers

  17. Carolyn says:

    In Maryland near Harpers Ferry, WV we have phoebe; bluebirds; red-shouldered hawks; house finch: Carolina chickadee, titmouse, downy, hairey, red-bellied, pileated woodpeckers; white-breasted nuthatch and cardinal. The recent warm weather brought out our peepers too.

  18. Marie says:

    We have Carolina Chickadees!!! First time ever in my yard! They were welcomed by all the usual borders the Robins, Cardinals, woodpeckers, catbirds, mourning doves, starlings, blue jays and I believe the carolina wrens (not sure, but they look like a picture )

  19. William says:

    We’re hearing and seeing our regular resident birds which include cardinals, Carolina wrens, titmice, pine warblers and goldfinches. The eastern bluebirds are building nests long with the wrens.

  20. sfs says:

    The red-tailed hawks, who are always here in Southwest Missouri, have been calling and wheeling over the past several days, and this evening hen turkeys were calling to their counterparts in the woods at the edge of one of my fields. Cardinals, mockingbirds, blue jays, doves, bluebirds, vultures, crows, starlings, woodpeckers of several varieties, flickers, mallards, great blue herons (who live in a rookery at one edge of my place), Canada geese, Great Horned and barn owls, woodcocks, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, purple finches, goldfinches (still in winter drab), robins, and Carolina wrens are out in force, and a bald eagle dropped part of a fish in my upper field a week ago. If all goes as usual, the indigo buntings, hummingbirds, scissor-tailed flycatchers, meadowlarks, and red-winged blackbirds will arrive shortly. The peepers have been sporadically tuning up for a few weeks now, but over the past three evenings have treated me to a full chorus as I fall asleep.

  21. Kathy says:

    In Lebanon,CT I’ve had cardnials all winter, as well as a pair of Eastern bkuebirds, along with the list of regulars. Lots of robins, finches and red belly woodpeckers. However- I love the plaintive sound of the mourning doves. I look forward to the hummers- their antics keep me entertained all summer. The renewal of life in the spring is always welcomed- regardless of the severity if the winter.

    1. margaret says:

      The hummingbirds always return here when the bleeding heart is blooming in the garden — not that bleeding heart is a native plant, but just a coincidence they seem to take advantage of and investigate. I like the doves’ sounds, too.

  22. Deb Parker says:

    In Connecticut I am hearing the eastern bluebird. They have been at the feeders for few weeks, starting with that blast of cold in February. I bought some dried meal worms for them, which they politely ate. Then the redwings arrived with their buddies the starlings. The starlings are very “piggy” and wiped out the worms in a matter of hours. It seems the bluebirds have no trouble eating suet, which is more reasonably priced. Robins bopping on the lawn by the bubblier for the sump-pump, (worms maybe)! So miss the Carolina Wrens, my favorite. Hope they use the birdhouse right by the soon to be opened windows again. Lovely singers those wrens!

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