By Helena Uber-Wamble, Alabama
As a bird educator, I notice that the changing of the seasons brings many different birds through our state, especially during migration. When I think of the seasons, I think of the many different sounds that are associated with them.
When I lived up north, the American Robin would announce spring-–literally! Even though some robins would stay the winter in back areas of the forest where the ground rarely saw snow and it stayed soft, they didn’t really sing. When the weather changed and many robins returned, it was if they greeted each other happily after the long absence. The robins sang “cheery, cheerio, cheer-up” from the first sign of light through the early morning. The energy in the air was filled with chatter as the returning robins began setting up their territories. Their cacophony of sound was amplified by all the other returning birds and life was good. Purple martins, warblers, chickadees, wood thrush, titmice and cardinals all communicated to establish their spot in and around the yard.
Down near the water’s edge in early spring, red-winged blackbird males return early to establish their territories in the reeds and cattails. They build several nests which they will present to the females and then let her choose where to lay her eggs. The males continue to guard the territory with the loud calls of “konka-a-ree,” flashing red epaulettes proudly perched atop the cattails.
Summer sounds slowly transition to crickets, cicadas, and katydids as they fill the night with the hum that starts at dusk and lulls us to sleep. During the day, grasshoppers and crickets take turns calling in the tall grass in the fields where meadowlarks and bluebirds feast. The sweet songs of meadowlark whistles cascade across the fields and slowly make a descending slur; listen closely and you can hear them sing “see-you-see-yer.” It is mesmerizing. Their songs are heard more than the bird is seen as they blend in to the grass and earthen shades. If you’re lucky enough, though, the bright yellow breast and belly with a black “v-shaped necklace” will be facing your way giving you a clear view of this stunning bird.
Hummingbirds visit feeders with their gentle humming of their wings. Many times you do not know the hummingbirds are there, as they perch quietly sipping the nectar you have provided. As the end of summer approaches, hummingbirds burst into scolding chatter as they chase other hummingbirds away from their food source. It is then that they need to “fatten-up” for their journey and are very defensive of the feeders.
Fall starts and the familiar Canada Geese flying in a “v-shape” head toward their southern wintering grounds. Even here in Alabama, geese re-group and fly to larger bodies of water. The geese seem to be in full party mode as the continuous, loud honking welcomes all the new arrivals at the “lake.” Owls begin their nightly hoots while looking for their mates, and to set up their nests to get ready to lay eggs and incubate through the winter. The soft “hoo-hoo-hooooo-hoo-hoo” can seem spooky if you aren’t familiar with it, and it is the call most associated with Halloween for that reason.
Here in my backyard, my favorite migrant shows up and fills my yard with its sweet song. Most migrants do not sing when they reach their wintering grounds, but the white-throated sparrow announces its arrival with its clear sweet whistled notes calling “Ohhh sweet, Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da,” as if pronouncing every syllable. It is a song I long to hear every fall and enjoy thoroughly throughout the winter season.
Winter brings a hush in the woods like no other. It is so quiet at times it is deafening! Sounds of rustling leaves that linger on the trees whisper to me to slow down, relax, hang-out, and reflect. Listen: as the light of dawn sends hues of golden rays across the sky, chickadees, cardinals, white-throated sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches and woodpeckers, who all love to visit the feeder, sing a greeting to the new day. During the day, geese greet one another at the pond, hawks call as pairs circle in flight, and at night if you listen closely, you may hear the faint “peent —peent—peent” of the woodcock near a field.
There are many more sounds out there, but you need to take a moment and listen for them. What do you hear in your area? How many sounds and songs of the birds change with the seasons? Do you pay attention to the same sounds as those around you, or do you let others dictate the sounds you hear? Many friends of mine find that the crack of a bat signals spring, summer is filled with the splash of those swimming in a pool; fall sounds are focused around bands playing and girls cheering at football games, while winter may be the dribbling of a ball down the court.
Outside there is an entire orchestra of sounds around us if you would just take a moment to stop and listen. Who knows what beautiful sounds and songs you might discover when you really listen to what is happening around you. Nature certainly fills our senses if only we would stop and listen.