Bird Listening

Though I have been an avid birdwatcher for 40 years, I have always been deficient when it comes to identifying birds by their song.  Now and then, I attempt to practice that craft, listening for birds as I walk through the neighborhood or hike at a nature preserve.

On this sunny but cool winter day, I decided another practice session was in order.  Winding my way through our neighborhood, I listened intently while visually focusing on the road ahead.  The calls and songs of many common residents are well known to even the casual birder and were easy to identify:  the ubiquitous calls of robins, the cheerful chatter of chickadees, the raucous scolding of blue jays, the distinctive yank of white-breasted nuthatches, the loud cries of flickers and the ringing notes of northern cardinals.  I was also able to pick out the calls of red-bellied woodpeckers, the soft tinkling of juncos, the twittering of house sparrows, the squeaky calls of starlings, the triumphant melody of Carolina wrens, the homesick song of white-throated sparrows, the high-pitched peek of downy woodpeckers, the whistled calls of titmice and the rising tune of a yellow-rumped warbler.  Most heartening was the soft, plaintive call of a mourning dove, among the earliest signs of the coming spring.

Though we rely on our ears for communication, we humans are visual creatures, taking in the natural world primarily with our eyes; only those deprived of sight develop hearing acuity that even begins to rival that of our wild neighbors.  Making the effort to identify the language of our avian residents and visitors, we become more completely immersed in their world and in the natural environment that we share.