Thursday, March 27, 2008

Light Leads To Singing

Spring mornings belong to the birds. The sounds of a dew-studded morning is bird song at its best.

Light! This is what moves birds to song. The northward moving sun brings more light each day and birds are the first to respond.

Even as the sun teased us these past chilly spring days, birds felt its warm touch, and that touch was overpowering. They began to sing way back in cold February. Now bird song in our area is climaxing, but it will continue until late May and early June. It is then that most summer visitors drop courting antics and close their nurseries, causing song to decrease noticeably.

Nearly all of our permanent residents nest a second or third time. From these nestings we have the mating songs and nursery lullabies until late July and August when both residents and visitors go into molt and song turns into call notes and angry shrieks.

Arising early, shortly after six o'clock, we find a pair of Carolina wrens, who have a nest in a basket of ferns on our porch, already busy feeding the six gaping yellow-rimmed mouths in the cradle. The male stops in a near by river birch between every trip to the nest and belts out a loud, "Shree, shree, shree." His industrious mate works consistently, probably cheered on by his go-go yell.

Where the wood lot meets the wall, there's a robin's nest saddled on a sweet gum branch. Here again the mother is busy with breakfast for four babies while dad adds his melody to the morning chorus. His concert was going before we arose, and he's been at it for an hour now.

Choosing a yaupon holly for their twig and leaf nest, a pair of brown thrashers thrash the debris under the hedge. While he and she dress alike, he soon leaves the thrashing to his new wife and flies to a dead branch of a tall pine where his throaty melody fills the scented air. She leaves the ground where she's feeding and flies to the nest. We watch as she settles down. After sitting, quickly she stands up in the nest again, turns around, shakes her wings, then quickly sits again. There were two eggs in the nest yesterday. We expect three when she leaves this morning.

A southern morning would be drab indeed without the clear whistle of the cardinal as he calls, "What-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer." He's giving a message to his less brightly colored mate who is busy checking out the cherry laurel hedge. Now, while she hides in the foliage, she sings softly and sweetly to her mate. He stops and listens. When she finishes, he begins a loud and long solo.

Two doves on pink feet swish and sway down the driveway, swinging their little hips from side to side, keeping time with their nodding heads. The dove is a prolific breeder and the two have already built their shallow stick nest high in the crotch of a pine tree. One or the other has been cooing since early morning, a soft, soothing note, compared to the loud boisterous songs of the more active yard birds.

And what would spring be without that master of song, the mockingbird. He is a tireless singer. Sitting atop a twig of a nearly-leafed tree, he sings incessantly hour after hour. We're expecting him to buy building space in the yellow jessamine vine.

He's happy and wants you to know it. The mocker has been known to change his song eighty-seven times in just seven minutes. This outburst of song is as much a part of spring as blooming dogwood trees and flaming azaleas.

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