After a colder than normal winter season, I suspect that most of us are happy to see spring appear on the scene, maybe a little early. Some of the birds that were seen moving north in the middle of February were trying to tell us what their internal clock were predicting about an earlier spring season. In my opinion, spring break-out has three facets that make it the best time of the year – the new bright green leaves replace the brown “skeleton look” of the woods, wildflowers freshen the drab landscape, and the birds fill the air with song.
The Northern Cardinal seems to have the right message as he starts his spring song with “Cheer! Cheer! Cheer!” high in a tree top on a cool morning. His song is not only inspirational, but he is sending a message to his rivals where his territory boundaries are and starting the breeding rituals. As you are sitting out on your porch or deck enjoying the dawn of a new day, you might hear other cardinals on their territories, or hear a variety of other songbird males joining in on the spring chorus. Off in the distance one of the woodpecker males may be tuning up his drumming ritual on that special resonate dead limb.
One of the sounds you hear may be coming from our state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, whose song is not melodious or soothing to our ears, but what he lacks in musical ability he makes up for by his persistence to be the noisiest bird in the chorus. If there is some moonlight, he may decide to “sing” the night away with an assortment of harsh calls, whistles and mocked sounds from machines, equipment or other birds. His closest approach to musical sounds will be his copy of the songs of other male songbirds. He also adds theatrics as he hops up a few feet from his perch, not missing a beat of sound in the process.
One of the interesting songsters is the Black-crested Titmouse who often showcases a wide variety of calls and songs. His variety is so large that many non-birders think they are hearing several species of birds. My favorite sound he makes is a close copy of a ringing telephone. As modern telephones play all kinds of sounds and songs, the titmouse’s imitation of a ringing telephone will soon be lost on the younger generations. Never-the-less, if you hear a loud “peter-peter-peter,” amongst a variety of rapidly delivered series of notes, it will be a titmouse.
As the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are pouring into and through the Hill Country at this time, they add a series of “crowing’ sounds as the flit around showing off their long streaming tail feathers. They will soon be joined by a close relative, the Western Kingbird, who brings a series of rapid “whits” into the mix of spring and summer sounds. The beautiful Vermilion Flycatcher males takes his “pita-a-see, pita-a-see” song to the air as he hovers and flutters his wings fifty feet above the ground.
No springtime chorus would be complete without the beautiful songs of the Bewick’s and Carolina wrens buzzy warbling notes. A number of our wintering sparrows will be tuning their songs up before they head northward to their breeding grounds. The same goes for the many warbler species who are, for the most part, passing through the Hill County. Hearing them sing is a bonus addition to any chorus.
In a few weeks we can expect to hear the Chuck-Wills-Widows in the evening hours giving their names in sound as they call. If you are lucky, you might get to see and her one of their relatives, the Common Nighthawk, a.k.a.”bullbat,”, make his booming sounds during a dive to impress his mate on the ground. Screech owls can add an eerie mix to the evening sounds.
To start your spring day off on the right note, take your cup of coffee or tea to the back porch or deck and enjoy the sounds of the dawn chorus. Try to identify the performers and appreciate what they are doing to make the spring season the best it can be.