For the Birds Radio Program: October Bird Sounds

Original Air Date: Oct. 27, 1998 Rerun Dates: Oct. 25, 1999

A few birds still break into song, but many others at least make a few sounds.

Duration: 4′07″


I woke up this late October morning in semi-darkness to a puppy licking my face, eager to go outside. Photon is pretty little still, and there isn’t much of a window of time between her telling me she has to go out and a real emergency, so I pulled myself out of bed, bundled up in a winter coat, and went out the door. It was one of those blustery, foggy, drizzly days when the temperature is hovering not much above freezing, and I was shivering and shuddering as I thought of winter days ahead when above the wind I suddenly heard a Song Sparrow singing.

This is a song I associate with hot summer days, but right as I was thinking how bizarre that was, and wondering if this little bird didn’t realize what time of year it is, a White-throated Sparrow piped in. His song wasn’t as clear and lovely as it will be next spring, but even in his hormonally challenged state, he also had a sudden need to belt out a tune.

The next bird to chime in was a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Of course the warbler wasn’t singing–he was “tsking” as if complaining about the weather, but hearing him called to mind balmier days of not too long ago.

It’s hard to say good-by to summer, especially as the leaves get sparser and the puppy gets us up to darker, colder mornings. But it’s time for me to accept that fall isn’t going to last much longer. Fortunately, little birds moving through are like grace notes even on the worst days.

Sparrows and Yellow-rumps are always nice to behold, but if I were to list my absolute favorite fall birds, Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers would be at the top of the list. They’re all about in the north woods right now, so busy with their own personal interests that they don’t pay us much mind. It’s not that easy creeping up on a kinglet–they’re hyperactive mites, and managing to hold one in binoculars for more than a few seconds is a genuine accomplishment.

My binoculars apparently have a sort of Midas touch and have sometimes given me long, satisfying looks at these treasures. Golden-crowned Kinglets are one of the birds that the world could not have too many of. They don’t have a tsk note like those complaining Yellow-rumps;­ Golden-crowned Kinglets have a high-pitched lisping note that they usually give in triplet.

Brown Creepers are much slower and more deliberate than flighty kinglets, but are just as tricky to find. Their distinctive call note is a single long high-pitched lisp like a sluggish kinglet might give. Creepers have a charming habit of spiraling up tree trunks, taking tiny insects from the bark with their delicate, curved beak. They are the color of bark, and their deliberate, slow movements are unobtrusive, making them hard to notice unless we’re looking for them.

Woodpeckers are active right now, and though they aren’t doing the advertising “drumming” that we will start hearing in February, they are conspicuous nonetheless, chasing each other about as they work out the boundaries of their winter territories. Before the weather gets too bad, they’ll have all that business settled so they don’t have to waste time and energy fighting in the winter.

I like that about birds–their systems often seem much more reasonable than our human ways of going about business. Watching my breath as I stand waiting for Photon to finish up, I think how that Song Sparrow and White-throat and even the little warbler and kinglets are a lot more comfortable out here than I am. They’re wearing their built-in long underwear, with it’s lifetime guarantee–if it doesn’t keep them perfectly warm and dry, they can return it and get back every penny they paid for it.