Nature: Phoebe sings its own name

This is the season for love songs in the bird world!

Friends told me of hearing a wren singing outside their house and just this week they heard a phoebe’s call. Migrants are returning and getting ready to nest.

Listen to all the sounds of spring. Woodpeckers calling and tapping on whatever surface suits them best are advertising that they are ready to find a mate. Drain gutters make a good sound that carries far and attracts attention. Your metal roof also is a good surface. Each bird has its own distinctive rhythm or beat once you get to recognize it. Step outside and listen to which woodpecker is near you and sending sound signals.

Goldfinches are changing into their yellow breeding plumage. For the winter both males and females looked alike, but now the male gets his vibrant yellow and black plumage once again. These colorful residents are here year round and come readily to feeders. Goldfinches are primarily vegetarians consuming quantities of seeds.

Amazingly enough a goldfinch is sometimes caught by the food that it eats! The hooks on burdock seeds sometimes hold them so fast that they can’t get free and actually die right there. I once found a hummingbird caught on a burdock.

Myrtle warblers (yellow-rumped warblers) are or soon will be in island woods. They are our earliest and one of our most abundant of the spring warblers. The yellow rump on the male has earned him his official new name, yellow-rumped warbler.

Besides the yellow rump this warbler has yellow or dull orange side patches. You often see them eating bay berries in the cold weather when flying insects are not to be found.

The spring call of phoebes is a nice sound to hear these days. They are just arriving. They are pretty well known birds, for they have a habit of placing their nest on the little shelf right over any door, or even on top of a light fixture there.

They are friendly little grey birds and their call sounds as if they are saying their own name. For several years I have had a family of phoebes raised outside my bedroom window and they have been fun to hear and watch. Like all in the flycatcher family they eat quantities of insects.

The Eastern phoebe is restless and cheerful. In the early spring it is always a good day when you see the first one of the new season sitting on a branch pumping its tail up and down and calling its familiar call “fee bee fee bee” over and over. They frequently return to the very same nest sight year after year where they make a lovely nest out of moss and mud.

Blue jays have a reputation of being raucous, greedy bullies chasing other birds from feeders and behaving in a pushy manner. They are unjustly accused of many things. Actually, any larger bird on a feeder is more aggressive than a small one, but given enough room they will eat peacefully with other birds both small and large.

Blue jays do not stay long at a feeder and any smaller bird that might be intimidated will soon return. One way to keep everyone happy is to offer more space on the feeder with a bigger area for all on the ground and on the shelf. Jays eat a variety of food and will often fly away with extras to hide for some other time.

During the winter wood frogs have been spending their time under logs or stones but now as spring awakens them they head for the nearest pond where there is shallow water. Here they will call for a mate and a new generation begins.

Female wood frogs lay thousands of eggs in a gelatinous mass 2-4 inches in diameter. This mass is fastened on a stick or other underwater vegetation. The eggs do not all hatch, of course. Some will be frozen by a cold snap. The pond may be too small and they will be eaten by predators. Without complications, though, they will hatch in less than two weeks.

The wood frog is easily recognized by its brown or coppery color with a dark eye coloration that looks as if the frog is wearing a mask. The sound of the wood frog is best described like ducks quacking off at a distance. Listen for it from now on as spring progresses in all local wet areas. Turn off the radio and TV. Take yourself outside and just listen!

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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