Posted by: atowhee | February 25, 2021


“…I was just a few months out of college and searching for a research project for my graduate degree. From my home base at Oregon State University…I had searched high and low for this project, for any project that involved birds, but found none–until I heard the Bewick’s Wren singing in my backyard. That was in January 1969, on a brilliantly sunny day after a rare snowfall in Corvallis. I soon read all I could find about songbirds and their songs and realized that I needed to know the answer to a very simple question… Just how does a singing bird get his song?” —The Singing Life of Birds, Donald Kroodsma

Just now the wren from Carolina buzzed
through the neighbor’s hedge
a line of grace notes I couldn’t even write down
much less sing. 

Now he lifts his chestnut colored throat
and delivers such a cantering praise–
for what?

For the early morning, the taste of the spider, 
for his small cup of life
that he drinks from every day, knowing it will refill.” –Mary Oliver

I see Bewick’s Wrens in pairs already. The song is working. I have heard this wintering species sing in all seasons–all it takes is a happy day, a hint of sunshine. Our meadowlarks are like that, too.

Perhaps the trilobites hummed short duets through the ancient seas. Perchance the pterodactyl made alluring sounds with its wings. Even the terrifying tyrannosaurus could have trumpeted musically through its elongated throat. Yet it feels certain that our late-coming hominid species must have first heard true music from the birds. From the wren in the thicket to the coronet sounds from cranes overhead, how our ancestors must have marveled, and then wanted to recreate. Drawing on cave walls of nearby creatures, wearing the skins and feathers and claws and paws of prey, strutting like a ostrich, prancing like a pronghorn, lumbering like a grizzly, our ancestors took most of their ideas and plans and food and arts from the real world around them. Surely the first drum was an attempt to copy the frog or the grouse. The first flute perhaps a thrush or lark. The first songs to parallel the nightingale or mockingbird.

So the Bewick’s Wren and his cousins have pleased and serenaded our kind for millennia. He starts pair formation early here so that a territory is established and borders set before his competing relative returns on migration (House Wren) and is thus forced to go higher in elevation to find a breeding location.

The wren in Irish folklore became the king of all birds…naturally.

Another species now singing: Red-winged Blackbirds. In our local park recently a bird call got me…momentarily. I heard the shrill call of an angry red-tail, but I was in an unlikely spot. The crows own the park and would hardly tolerate even a passing red-tail. Then a pair of Steller’s Jays popped out of a nearby cedar, likely guffawing that they had fooled another lumbering mammalian predator.

This is also the time of year when the chorus frogs begin to compete vocally.

At Fairview Wetlands this afternoon the wind was sharp and my face and hands were numbed. The sky was heavy with lead and globules of water smashed against my skin. Nora was pulling hard on her leach to get back to the dry, warm car. Yet far up I watched my first Turkey Vulture of the year soaring in circles. Mere cold will not deter him as long as the daily menu includes roadkill that is not hard-frozen.

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