Naturalist’s Notebook: Bird Songs | Tennessee Aquarium


Hello to all the young scientists out there. In today’s Naturalist’s Notebook, we will talk about a sense that can be a very important one to develop for any nature observer – your sense of hearing.

In the springtime I use my sense of hearing every time I step outdoors. All of the birds are singing. During the spring migration, new birds are arriving every day from the tropics where they spent the winter. Over the years, I’ve learned what types of birds are present by identifying their songs.

This morning I heard the beautiful songs of at least two Wood Thrushes. From that same area of woods came a rattlesnake rattle song from a Worm-eating Warbler. If you didn’t know it was a bird making that sound, you might think a dangerous snake was nearby. A Great-crested Flycatcher called a burry “Weeep Weeep” from a nearby treetop. Then there was a sound like a rusty gate creaking. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak! I hope it will visit one of my sunflower seed feeders.

It is not just migrating birds that I hear. Many birds live here all year, and they like to sing, too. Since they are around more often, it is a little easier to learn their songs.

The Northern Mockingbird, our official Tennessee state bird, is a really good listener. It hears the songs of all the birds around it and can remember each one. Its song is made up of all the bird songs it learns. It usually sings one song three or four times and then goes on to repeat another bird’s song after that. By memorizing everyone’s song, it has enough material to keep singing all day long.

One of these year-round birds is the Carolina Wren, a small reddish-brown bird that is very common around my house. I’ve written about them several times already because they nested on my porch. I provided a couple of photos of a young wren.

For such a small bird, they have a very BIG voice! From what I’ve read, both the males and females like to sing, and one often answers the other.

I’ve noticed I can tell individual wrens by the song each one sings. Every one sounds a little different. Bird field guides say their song sounds like “Teakettle Teakettle Teakettle!” or “Tweedle Tweedle Tweedle!” And you know what? Sometimes I do hear those songs, but it seems my wrens like to come up with their own variations.

I have named my favorite wren Jibberty. That’s because his song says,”Jibberty Jibberty Jibberty Jib!” I hear it every single day, usually coming from the same patch of woods. When I told my wife what it was saying, she didn’t believe me at first. A few minutes later, that familiar song rang out from the woods. Surprised, she had to admit that old Jibberty really did sing that song.

Another wren must be a Star Wars fan, because its song says, “Chewbacca Chewbacca Chewbacca!” I wonder where it may have met that Star Wars character.

I heard one today that sang simply, “Potato Potato Potato!” Another one said, “Cheeseburger Cheeseburger Cheeseburger!” I wonder if they were hungry. Of course, they don’t really eat potatoes or cheeseburgers. Carolina Wrens would rather have insects, worms, and spiders. They are always poking around my carport and grill looking for those tasty morsels to feed their youngsters.

Do you like to sing? Why? Just because it makes you feel good? I suspect birds feel the same way, but birds sing for several other reasons too. One is to talk with each other. They like to stay in touch.

They have an entirely different song to warn other birds a predator is nearby. Wrens definitely make scolding and warning sounds, which might help other birds find and help them to drive off a snake or owl. If the predator knows all the birds are fussing at it and making a lot of noise, then it is time to leave the area.

If a new neighbor moved next door to you, would you go over to the fence and sing as loud as you could? Not just once but over and over? If you were a bird you would! Their songs are very important to mark the territory where they plan to nest. If another bird enters that territory, sometimes all it takes to get them to move elsewhere is a good round of singing.

One of these days you may wish to find a husband or wife. Would you get one by singing? Maybe you could, but if you were a bird, singing would be a good idea. Male birds advertise for a mate with their songs.

If you would like to learn more about Carolina Wrens and their various songs you could get on the internet and type in “Carolina Wren.” From there, you can visit the website of the National Audubon Society. Their site has lots of good wren information, and if you scroll down you’ll find several different wren songs.

Chances are good you have one or more singing birds in your neighborhood or maybe even in your own yard. Learn the bird songs, so you can say hello to your nature neighbors anytime you leave your house. Play a game and put words to their songs like I’ve done.

Keep your ears open, and have fun!

Mr. Bill





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