For the Birds Radio Program: Ovenbird

Original Air Date: Aug. 20, 1999

Birds are quiet now, making Laura wonder what to make of a diminished thing.

Audio missing


Summer’s end is a quiet time of extravagant riches. This year is one of the wettest ever in Duluth, and plants are lush and green, heavily laden with fruits and insects. With an abundance of food, many local birds have produced two and even three broods of young. But with all the wonderful new life filling the earth, birds are enjoying summer’s riches in silence. The last Mourning Doves and robins stopped singing weeks ago. Instead of lovely bird songs easing me from sleep, I’m now waking to the jarring buzz of my alarm clock and harsh crow caws.

Red-eyed Vireos still sing occasionally, but other than these preacher birds that drone on endlessly even in August, and Cedar Waxwings whose soft snoring notes are not songlike and barely audible, my days at Hawk Ridge have been bereft of bird song. It’s hardly silent. Grasshoppers rasp like dry leaves, cars rush by, birdwatchers talk about hawks, and tourists point out landmarks. But birds have passed a milestone, so caught up in the fruition of summer that they’ve lost sense of the possibilities of spring. Full-sized robins with speckled breasts pigging out on fruit and worms were hidden within eggs not too many weeks ago. Summer vacation stretched out endlessly before us, with bazillions of possibilities that are now just about all reduced to memories and missed opportunities. Bird song is a declaration of hope for the future–hope in a promising territory and a good mate and lots of babies. As day length decreases and those activities end for another year, birds are left with their memories and winter to look forward to. Suddenly, there’s just not much to sing about.

I was contemplating the silence last week when suddenly an Ovenbird broke into a single round of its teacher, teacher, teacher song. It turned my thoughts to Robert Frost’s poem, *The Oven Bird.”

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one is to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past,
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.