Hot summer songsters

No, it’s not another reality TV series, and there’s no need to call in and vote for your favorite. But if you pause a moment with that first cup of coffee, you’ll notice that the mornings are becoming quieter. It’s hard for us sedentary humans, slogging through 90-degree heat and afternoon thunderstorms to realize, but autumn is just around the corner. Nature, however, runs on a more intuitive clock.

Many of the colorful neotropical migrants that fill our mountains with song every spring and summer have once again become empty nesters. With no mates to attract and no territories to defend, the urge to warble wanes as our feathered friends focus on storing enough fat reserves to wing it back south.

A small mixed flock of foraging warblers passed through my yard just the other morning. There were at least four species — hooded, black-throated green, chestnut-sided, and black-and-white. There was barely a chirp from any of them as they busily searched for insects.

The mornings aren’t completely silent. Even some of the empty nesters will greet the rising sun with a chorus or two, but they quickly fall silent as the sun climbs into the morning sky. And there are those neotropicals that manage to pull off two broods. These species are more vociferous than the empty nesters.

Double brooders I have in my woods include wood thrush, hooded warbler and red-eyed vireo. I am still serenaded each morning and evening by the sweet, flute-like song of the wood thrush. The hooded warbler is heard occasionally throughout the day while the red-eyed vireo sings constantly.

The red-eyed vireo is one of those hot summer songsters. It seems like if this bird is breathing it’s singing. Peterson’s field guide calls the song monotonous. According to a column by Roy Lukes at, Canadian L. de Kirline recorded, in a day’s time, 22,197 songs from a single red-eyed vireo. The column also gives a very apt description of the song: “One of the most appropriate descriptions of the red-eyed vireo’s monotonous song was set to the English language by Wilson Flagg. He could hear one repeating over and over, ‘You see it ... you know it ... do you hear me? ... do you believe it?’”

The indigo bunting is another of my favorite summer songsters. This incandescent indigo orb sings incessantly. Unlike the red-eyed vireo that sings from the shadowy treetops the indigo likes to perform in full view. It sings from the very tops of trees or any other conspicuous perch like power lines. At noon and 90 degrees, no problem. The indigo is out there in full voice.

The indigo’s song is also a collection of phrases. One of the common mnemonics for the indigo’s song is, “fire-fire!”

Like most mnemonics, the above is a generalization. Studies show that male indigos have highly specialized songs that are unique to local neighborhoods. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The sequences of notes in Indigo Bunting songs are unique to local neighborhoods. Males a few hundred meters apart generally have different songs. Males on neighboring territories often have the same or nearly identical songs.”

Summer is surely slipping away, but it won’t be over ‘til the fat bird stops singing.

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