2008.06.18 Those early-morning birds

Written by David Green.


I awoke early one day last week, listened to the boisterous birds for a while and finally got up, almost an hour before necessary.

I went downstairs, woke up the computer and noticed an e-mail from a friend that had only recently arrived. I wrote back asking why she, a teacher, was up before 6 a.m. now that school was out.

Her reply was simple: “I am up at 6 a.m. in the summer. The birds are too loud.”

I told her I had been listening to birds, too. There’s the general cacophony going on and then all of a sudden a really raucous robin takes over. It doesn’t seem to be any closer to my bedroom than the others. It just really wants to make its point and yell it out.

It makes me think about bird personalities, how each bird out there must be a little different than the others. Is that too much for you to accept? A bird-brain is a bird-brain? You can see the differences in your pets; why not in the remainder of the animal kingdom? Some ants walk away, others really scramble. And so forth.

I mentioned the bird personality thing to my friend who wrote back: “I was listening to the same bird making similar but slightly different calls over the course of 20 minutes. I was wondering if it was saying something specific over and over or if it was shouting out a conversation...or if it was just chirping like the small-minded beast that it is.”

I knew just what she was talking about. I do a fair amount of early-morning bird listening and I often wonder what’s going on out there.

For example, just who is the real Early Bird? Is it the same robin every morning that breaks out first in my neighborhood? It’s before daylight. What’s the use of singing in the dark? No one else seems to be awake. You’re not going to hunt for worms in the dark. Too dangerous.

How do the birds decide when it’s time to start? When it’s time to quit? When does that last robin sound in the evening? Is that really boisterous one the first one asleep or the last one to call out?

From what I can recall, it’s always the robins who are first in the morning. By 6 a.m., they’ve quieted down somewhat. You can still hear a few of them around the neighborhood, but it’s a different, more relaxed tone. None of the early-morning crowing.

Then the sparrows take over. It’s chirping rather than singing. I don’t hear much of anything from the cardinals and jays. I wonder if they sleep in.

The special treat is the wren talk. They’re so musical. Such skilled vocalists. Now there’s a bird that’s really interesting to follow. How could anyone mind getting awakened by a wren?

A friend from Plymouth says this about wren talk: “The wren in our immediate vicinity sings so many varieties in speed, volume and position, one following another instantly.  This morning I was out about 6 and he was at the tip of the spruce across the street, letting loose with such force you’d think the daylight depended on him alone.”

A friend in the country gets a different chorus every morning. Brown thrashers, cedar waxwings, mockingbirds, warblers, chickadees, nuthatches, rose-breasted grossbeaks, bob-o-links, meadowlarks, redwings, crows, sandhill cranes and grackles.

Oh yes, we have the grackles. People don’t like that bird very much, but it is entertaining to hear a new tone of voice emerge when a parent flies to the nest. The kids talk differently.

I was sitting and listening on the front porch last evening. The bird world was growing calm. There were some sparrows chirping and doves calling. The mourning dove has such a strange call. There was one nearby and then another farther away and two or three others in the distance.

The robins must be the first of the day and the last at night. They’re members of the thrush family and their night call sometimes resembles the amazing sound of the wood thrush.

But the topic here was morning birds so I asked my wife—who is certainly not a morning bird—if she hears them.

No question about it. She’s not pleased. Not even a wren catches her fancy.

“I want to throw a pillow at the window,” she said.

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