Jaysus, Have You Been Heron That?
It’s early Sunday morning, and you just can’t sleep because something outside is making a racket. No, it’s not just the super fine Athena lacrosse team yelling “BALL!” “CRASH!” “SLIDE LOW!” that you hear, there are other beings out there yelling at the top of their lungs: birds. Once you tune them in, it takes effort to tune them back out. So now that I’ve drawn your attention to the incessant cheeps, chirps, and warbles, why not learn a little more about our fine feathered friends?
There are two major classifications for birds, non-passerine and passerine. Non-passerines are the first birds that evolved. They are birds like geese, quail, doves, and woodpeckers. Their sounds are some of the most recognizable, and are believed to be inherited from their parents. Passerines evolved later from non-passerines. They’re also known as “perching birds” due to their unique leg and toe structure. These songbirds are what you’re most likely hearing in Claremont. They learn their songs by listening to and trying to match their parents, similar to how humans pick up speech.
Bird brains are wired to detect changing day length, and regardless of the weather it is spring for the birds once the days start getting longer. Once spring hits, birds are more vocal. Birds make sounds in multiple ways and for many different reasons. They have both songs and calls. Songs are the longer melodic phrases that are distinguishable from species to species. Songs are sung by male birds to attract a mate and establish territory. Calls are the other chirps, sputters, and tweets which are typically 140 characters or less in length (attention check) and usually signal danger or something else to the flock. Song birds typically have one, maybe two, songs and a distinctive call. Mimicking birds like mockingbirds, starlings, and blue jays typically have a few different songs in their repertoire and learn more as they age. Birders (people that watch birds) learn to distinguish birds by their calls and songs, often creating a mnemonic phrase to remember what the song sounds like.
Here’s a couple birds commonly seen around campus, and their song:
The yellow warbler can be found in Claremont in the late spring and summer and is easily distinguishable due to its bright yellow color. I haven't seen one on campus yet, but supposedly they like water, so maybe keep an eye (and an ear) out while at the pool.
The mnemonic birders use to describe this song is "sweet sweet sweet I'm so sweet." This song is a high pitched sweeping whistle sound.
The northern mockingbird can be spotted in Claremont and across the country year-round. They like suburban habitats, and regularly hang around buildings. On campus, I've most commonly seen these in South Quad near Ducey and the towers. Though they can be found nation-wide, the mocking birds on the east sound much different than the west. Why's that? Because their song consists of short bursts of mimicry; it will sing the songs of birds it encounters. Mockingbirds can even mimic the local frogs and insects.
The Chipping Sparrow will hang around Claremont for most of the year. They are tiny birds that like to hop around in shrubs and bushes as well around open grassy spaces. The one pictured was between Parents and Berger. They nest in hedges that line sidewalks.
Their call is a very distinctive long, mechanical trill.
The Common Yellowthroat can be seen in Claremont year-round. They like to hang around in dense bushes and trees. Check the trees around you while you're on the sidewalks of Mid-Quad and this guy will likely be around.
Mnemonically, this song sounds like"wich-i-ty wich-i-ty wich-i-ty."
If you're not familiar with any other bird out there, you would probably recognize a robin if you saw one. Their red belly is known across the country and they live everywhere from the deep depths of the forests to the suburban lawn. You can frequently hear them singing outside Collins, and I've spotted them a few times on the fence on the walkway between the apartments and campus. This song is a fluty one, with a mnemonic as peppy as the bird itself, "cheerily, cheer up, cherio, hisselly."
This is the only non-passerine of the group. This is another bird typically found throughout the country year-round. Their call is very distinct. You probably already know it because it is used in many Hollywood movies to establish a rugged outdoors vibe. They aren't often seen around campus, but there is one that likes to hang out on the tree outside the Hub.
Trying to distinguish songs can make you go looney at first, and you may be having a horwrendous time trying to identify anything. You’ll have to retern to the audio clips again and again, which may feel like a real birden. Just keep pecking away, swallow your frustration and eventually you’ll be able to turn that scowl upside down and feel veery good, as if you had successfully been robin a bank (okay, maybe that last one is a stretch).
Admittedly, few people give a hoot about birding, and there’s not much use in being able to play aural eye-spy. At best it’s maybe a fun party trick... that is, if you party at 6 a.m. (oh heyy Marathon Party). Maybe it’ll give you a delight similar to turning on the radio radio and hearing a familiar tune, or maybe it’ll just give you something to do as you walk across campus. Whatever use bird calls are to you, hopefully you’ve learned something new. Have a pheasant day!
Bird sounds from to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library