For the Birds Radio Program: Evocative Bird Songs

Original Air Date: July 4, 1988

Summer bird songs give Laura a sense of time and place. (4:08) date confirmed.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Winter Wren)

People usually associate bird song with spring, and by this time of year we tend to take bird songs for granted. Most birds don’t sing as much in mid-summer–they’re too busy raising their babies for one thing, and as they finish up nesting and requiring a territory, the whole purpose of song is done with for the season. But summer would be dull and flat without the music of birds. What would early morning walks in bogs and deep spruce forests be without the song of the winter wren?

(Recording of a Winter Wren)

Could any man-made musical instrument match that? And could even Jean-Pierre Rampal’s flute compete with the song of the Hermit Thrush?

(Recording of a Hermit Thrush)

On hot, dusty July days when I walk through Port Wing meadows dotted with buttercups and hawk weed, the soft whispers of locusts are punctuated by the sweet lazy snore of the Savannah Sparrow.

(Recording of a Savannah Sparrow)

At the edge of the meadow, where small spruce trees and balsams compete with popples, the buzz buzz buzz of the Clay- colored Sparrow plays in fugue with the Chipping sparrow’s long dry trill. (Recording of a Clay-colored Sparrow and a Chipping Sparrow)

When I’m busy in the house or in the backyard, the one song that can always make me stop working and smile is the energetic bubbling of the House Wren. Even without looking, I can imagine the animated sprite hopping through the day lilies, cocking his tail and nipping at small bugs between each cheerful verse.

(Recording of a House Wren)

Orioles have been singing again lately, with their rich whistle. They’re most abundant in neighborhoods that still have a few elm trees. The song of orioles always seems a bit sad to me–it reminds me how tenuous their hold on earth is, with their wintering grounds in the tropical rain forest being steadily and inexorably destroyed, and the elms they need for nesting dying away, as well.

(Recording of a Northern Oriole)

As the afternoon wanes on these long summer days, the songs pick up. When I was a little girl in Chicago, I used to swing in the backyard as the neighborhood House Sparrows gathered in the bushes and in my garage for the evening.

(Recording of a House Sparrow)

They all seemed to talk at once, telling one another about their day and gossiping, and then as the orange sky grew pale and the fireflies started up, the sparrow voices would quiet down and one by one the little birds would fall asleep.

I don’t get these large sparrow gatherings at my house in Duluth, but if I sit on the swing set in my backyard now at dusk, I can hear the Chimney Swifts chittering as they assemble for the night.

(Recording of a Chimney Swift)

Nighthawks buzz.

(Recording of a Common Nighthawk)

And one of the most welcome Northland sounds of all starts up in the moist woodlands as the sun goes down, when the Veery sings good night to the woods.

(Recording of a Veery)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”