Like Bird Watching? Try Bird Listening
by M.L. Faunce
Ever since getting a singing clock last Christmas, Ive gotten better at identifying birds by their calls. Actually, my parakeet, Lily, is even better. Of course, her perch is near the kitchen clock, and she has the company of songs from both inside the house and out all day long. I can never tell where she has learned her baby bird talk. I do know that she repeated her own soft version of cheerily, cheerily, cheer-up -- the robins signature call -- at a time of year when no robins were in sight.
But neither Lily nor the singing clock could help me with the call Id heard all winter. The first time I heard the repetitive trill early one morning, I thought it was someones cell phone.
But the habitat around my cedar-sided home is bordered by wetlands and the Bay, loblolly pines, maple and sweet gum and neighbors who leave cell phones and city ways behind when they get home to South County.
It took getting an avid bird watcher -- who had slept in most winter weekend mornings -- up with the birds to solve the mystery. Downy woodpecker, she said sleepily, but with authority.
Now Lily knows that, day in day out, the robin sings at 1pm. And Ive found myself humming the 6pm tune, the figaro, figaro of the northern oriole. The sing-songy swan song of the white-throated sparrow at 11am sticks in my mind, too.
But the downy woodpecker, so hard to mistake in its black and white stripes, doesnt sound on the clock -- and may be too busy to sing the live-long day in nature. The downy has work to do. Like debugging my cedar home and excavating old trees. When boredom sets in, this woodpecker can be found rapidly drumming the downspout. For food and more fun, it plucks berries from dogwood, tupelo, even poison ivy.
So if you want to hear the downy, plan to get up early. Youll find
yourself answering an insistent call with no electronics. Youll hear
a high-pitched, staccato ki-ki-ki-ki-ki before indoor birds, winter weekend
sleepers and singing clocks start their day.