|7/25/2013 12:03:00 PM|
by Don ReimerOn July 3rd at 4:10 a.m. a male cardinal awakened me with his first burst of morning song - a piercing, clear-throated "whoit!, whoit!, purty!-purty! -purty!" A few minutes later, an American Robin launched his throbbing "cheeralup-cheeralee" carol. In midsummer, the early-dawn bird chorus is somewhat diminished. Many of Maine's breeding songsters have abandoned their high-intensity spring courtship songs in favor of softer or partial renditions.
Who else is singing around my yard these days? At least one pair of Red-Eyed Vireos maintains a treetop nest somewhere among the surrounding tall maples. Vireos resemble warblers, but are stockier, with a hook-tipped bill designed for handling sizeable insect prey. With its drab greenish back, white belly, gray cap and prominent white eyebrow, this species' garnet-red eye is perhaps its most distinguishing feature.
In regard to impressive song production, the Red-Eyed Vireo is an endurance champion. Its rapid song cadence resembles the phrase "here I am; where are you?" While each of the songs in the 40-to-50-songs-per-minute repertoire might sound identical to the casual listener, careful scrutiny reveals 30 or more slightly different song tracks.
About 60 years ago, a lady named Louise de Kiriline Lawrence undertook the unique challenge of tabulating the day-long songs of a male Red-Eyed. By 5 a.m. the vireo had sung 1,700 songs, then another 2,155 during the next hour. At the end of his 10-hour singing spree, the bird had sung 22,197 repetitions. Except for brief breaks for feather preening, a typical vireo sings steadily throughout the day. I have even seen them singing with a mouthful of food!
A House Wren also spends time around my yard. Wrens are small brownish birds with a thin curved bill and short rounded wings. The House Wren has a short tail that is often cocked at an angle. Wrens prefer dense shrubby habitat where they feed mainly on insects and other invertebrates. Being cavity nesters, House Wrens utilize natural cavities and nest boxes. Some unusual manmade nest choices include hats, cans, teapots, shoes, auto radiators and the pocket of a scarecrow.
When I heard the wren's jumbled, bubbling song out behind my house, I went to investigate. Judging from his urgent singing style and actions, this guy was definitely looking for a date. Maybe he was a failed nester from the earlier season or perhaps looking to sire a second summer brood.
The ambitious little bird made several trips to a nest box entrance, depositing small sticks inside. On one particular pass, his cumbersome duties became apparent as he struggled with a load. The wren slipped backwards as he gamely gripped the rim of nest hole with his left foot, hanging precariously upside down. Unwilling to drop his stick, the determined wren eventually righted himself and forced his way through the entrance.
In defining the term "over achiever," I think Webster's Dictionary could illustrate that concept with the picture of a wren. Wrens are perpetually active and motivated. Once the male establishes a territory, he builds a series of dummy nests of twigs and stuffs full every potential nesting cavity. The female accepts the final nest site by placing a cup of grasses and plant fibers, rootlets and feathers atop his foundation. We have all heard the expression "build it and they will come." My backyard wren is a living example of that faithful hope.
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