2002.07.17 Waking with the birds

Written by David Green.


Friday, July 5, approximately 5:30 a.m. Half asleep in a tent in the back yard of my sister’s cottage. Suddenly I’m torn awake by the sound of a bird overhead.

It catches me by surprise. It’s a mourning dove. One loud and nearby call and then nothing more. That’s it. The first bird of the morning.

Does this sound right to the rest of you early risers who awaken easily to the sound of birds at daybreak? A mourning dove?

Doves have such a distinctive call. A plaintive cooing that seemed so familiar and yet a little strange that morning. Ever since the infamous 5-9 Day of 2000, when our back yard spruce went down in the storm, we haven’t had a dove family in the yard. I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve heard one up close.

It’s the male that gives the characteristic mourning call. He was probably just defending his territory, and I certainly wasn’t challenging it.

A dove fact: Unlike other birds who take a little water and tilt back their heads to drink, the dove can sip it up through the beak. It leaves its bill right in the water while it drinks.

Approximately 5:35 a.m. Now the robins come alive. This is what I’m accustomed to hearing early in the morning. Robins have a very characteristic morning voice—actually about the same as their late evening voice. It’s much different from the usual daytime talking. It’s not really a song as much as a lot of short, quick, musical notes.

On the mornings when I wake up early and am unable to get back to sleep, that first robin lets me know that I’m going to be tired later in the day. It tells me: “It’s too late now. Morning is here, it’s getting light.”

A robin fact: The female is the nest builder. She makes a cup-shaped nest that has an outer foundation of long grass, twigs, paper and feathers woven together. The inner bowl of the nest is lined with mud and smeared with her breast. Later, softer material is added to cushion the eggs.

Probably about 5:50 a.m. Now the remainder have joined in. It’s all the little guys, sparrows, I suppose. It’s getting louder out there now. There’s no more sleeping with all of that going on.

It sounds as though there are dozens in the area. I’m assuming they’re house sparrows, which aren’t really sparrows at all. They’re weaver finches. They get pretty aggressive when they’re protecting their territory, and that means they get pretty noisy, which they’re doing as I lay in the tent.

Sparrow fact: These birds are everywhere, but only for last 120 years. A classic case of human intervention gone awry, the house sparrow was introduced to this country in 1851 when a hundred birds were released in Brooklyn, NY.

Approximately 6:15 a.m. If I thought it was loud before, I was mistaken. There are a lot of blue jays living in that neighborhood and they’re all having a morning brawl in the pine trees near the tent.

They might seem like bullies, but there’s a lot to like about a jay. The color is stunning, the variety of calls is most entertaining, and they’re just a lot of fun to watch.

A blue jay fact: Blue jays are good at imitating the call of a hawk. They often give it when a hawk is circling overhead.

Those are morning stories and there’s room for one from the evening.

May 1971, Leelanau Peninsula. A quiet pine woods at dusk, back from the shore of Lake Michigan. A bird calls. It almost sounds electric. It’s a hermit thrush.  It’s simply one of the most amazing sounds to hear in an evening woods. There’s nothing else like it.

Summer is only half over. There’s still time for vacationing, still time to wake up somewhere in a tent. When you’re out there, don’t forget to listen to the birds. They have some very interesting things to say.

    – July 17, 2002
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