An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Bird Songs

Brown Creepers Singing

4-11-14 brown creeper2  025Brown Creepers –insect-eating, bark-gleaning, little brown birds — are occasionally spotted as they circle their way upwards around and around a tree trunk, probing under bark with their thin, curved beaks for their next meal. Because they are so well camouflaged it is easy to miss them. Your chances of becoming aware of their presence are increased if you become familiar with the high, thin but surprisingly rich song males sing to establish territories on their breeding grounds this time of year. Although they continue to sing through the nesting period until their young have fledged, male brown creepers are most vocal early in the season, when they are staking out their territory. You can hear their song by going to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/brown_creeper/sounds and clicking on “sound.”

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Male American Bitterns Calling

6-8-13 calling A. bitternAmerican Bitterns typically nest in tall, standing cattails, rushes and sedges, where they are well concealed. Like most birds, male bitterns use their voice to attract a female and to stake out their territory. Dense marshes present a challenge when it comes to being heard, however. American Bitterns overcome this challenge by having a very low-frequency call, which is audible at great distances in dense marsh vegetation. Once you’ve heard a bittern’s call, you’ll never forget it. It is very deep, and has three syllables – “oong-ka-choonk” – which are preceded by clicks and gulps. The bittern makes this call multiple times by inflating his esophagus while contorting himself quite violently. A female American Bittern couldn’t help but be impressed. (You can hear a bittern calling by visiting Cornell’s site, http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_bittern/sounds .


Tufted Titmice Singing

titmouse IMG_3625Winter must be on the wane, as a tufted titmouse was recently singing its fast-repeated, clear whistle song, “Peter—Peter—Peter,” in nearby woods. Male titmice repeat this phrase over and over, up to 11 times in succession. Occasionally females sing a softer version of this song. The calls of tufted titmice, on the other hand, are very nasal and mechanical-sounding. Songs are typically more musical and complex than calls, and are often sung only by males during the breeding season, to attract a mate and claim territory. Calls, on the other hand, have many purposes – there are calls for aggression, warning, identification, flocking, hunger and to announce a food source, among others.


Black-capped Chickadees Celebrate Lengthening Days

1-15-13 black-capped chickadeeEven though black-capped chickadees are named for their chick-a-dee-dee-dee winter song, it is their so-called spring song which resonates most with many of us. It seems as if chickadees are immediately aware of when the days start to get longer, as their mating song begins as early as January. Sounding to some like “fee-bee” and others as “hey-sweetie,” this delightful song consists of two whistles, each about half a second long, with the second whistle a lower pitch than the first. Although these cavity nesters won’t actually be breeding until April, we will continue to be serenaded by their courtship song throughout the winter. As birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma so aptly describes this song, “It is the purest of whistles, this promise of spring.”


Northern Mockingbird

12-3-12 northern mockingbird IMG_7435If you lived in New England in the early 1800’s, the sight and sound of a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) would not be familiar to you. In the mid to late-1800’s they began extending their range northward in eastern North America to the point where they are now year round residents throughout New England. This range expansion is largely attributable to changes in habitat (more fields and shrubby areas), as well as the demise of the practice of capturing mockingbirds for the pet trade. However, during the last 25 years Vermont has experienced a 26% decline in breeding mockingbirds, due largely to diminishing habitat, according to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ 2nd Breeding Bird Atlas.The Northern Mockingbird is known for its ability to mimic other birds’ songs (a male’s repertoire often contains more than 150 songs, which changes and can increase as the bird ages). In the spring and fall, if you hear a bird singing at night, especially during a full moon, it is often an unmated male mockingbird. At this time of year, you’re more likely to see, not hear, a Northern Mockingbird.


A Great Christmas Present!

If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill.  A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!

One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”

In a recent email to me a parent wrote, “Naturally Curious is our five year old’s unqualified f-a-v-o-r-I-t-e  book. He spends hours regularly returning to it to study it’s vivid pictures and have us read to him about all the different creatures. It is a ‘must have’ for any family with children living in New England…or for anyone that simply shares a love of the outdoors.”

I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!


Indigo Bunting

There is something irrepressibly cheery about the song of an Indigo Bunting.  The male’s paired notes ring out from a high perch, where this unbelievably blue bird positively sparkles in the sunlight. According to Cornell’s “All About Birds” site, the male sings as many as 200 songs per hour at dawn and for the rest of the day averages a song per minute.  To hear an indigo bunting sing, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Indigo_Bunting/sounds


Naturally Curious Interview – Part 2

Chris Mazzarella, on his blog “Forest Forward” has posted the second half of his interview with me.  To read it, you can go to http://forestforward.com/2012/05/07/an-interview-with-mary-holland-part-two/


Yellow-rumped Warbler

The Yellow-rumped Warbler (aka “Butterbutt”) has returned to our woodlands, and our ears and eyes are all the richer for it.  The song of this bejeweled songbird often stumps me the first time I hear it every spring.  It is described as a “slow, soft, sweetly whistled warble” or trill. It is also said to  resemble the sound of an old-time sewing machine.  To see which song description you prefer, or to make your own, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/yellow-rumped_warbler/sounds.

 

 


Song Sparrows

The return of song sparrows and their energetic songs tells us spring has definitely arrived.  The males sing a sequence of notes, including clear whistles and buzzy sounds.  According to nature recordist Lang Elliott, each male has about ten songs in its repertoire and tends to repeat one pattern for several minutes before changing to another. Although other birds may produce more musical songs, you’d have to search far and wide for more enthusiastic outbursts than those of a song sparrow.


Northern Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl

One night this week I became aware of a series of whistled “toots,” all the same pitch, coming from the adjacent woods. This far-reaching, distinctive call comes from a surprisingly small owl, the Northern Saw-whet — one of our most common owls, whose common name comes from the “skiew” call that is made when it is alarmed. This sound has a resemblance to the whetting of a saw. Although a Saw-whet only weighs about as much as a robin, you would never know it from the volume and carrying power (over 300 yards) of its call. Typically the male calls only during the mating season, in an attempt to attract a female with whom it will mate. The female then selects the nesting cavity, typically a Northern Flicker or Pileated Woodpecker hole, usually in March or April. This pint-sized raptor (weighing less than 3 ounces, and measuring 8 inches in length) feeds mainly on deer mice. Unlike most owls, it does not swallow the mouse whole, but rather tears it in half, leaving the second half for another meal.


Naturally Curious wins National Outdoor Book Award

I am delighted to be able to tell you that this morning I learned that NATURALLY CURIOUS won the Nature Guidebook category of the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards.  I’m honored and humbled by this recognition.   http://www.noba-web.org/books11.htm


Common Yellowthroat

The common yellowthroat is one of the easiest warblers to recognize, as both its appearance and song are very distinctive. Referred to as the “lone ranger bird” by birders over a certain age, the male yellowthroat has a black mask over its eyes. Females lack this mask and their yellow throats and underparts are paler than the males’. You’re more likely to hear the male than you are to see him – listen for his “wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty” song coming from thick, tangled vegetation, particularly in wet areas. You can also hear it by going to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Yellowthroat/sounds .


Yellow-rumped Warbler

We are in the peak of the yellow-rumped warbler’s migration north to its breeding grounds (northern New England, Canada and Alaska). While its winter plumage is quite dull, its breeding plumage is very colorful. If you don’t spot one or more of these warbler flying from a branch to snatch an insect in mid-air, you might well hear the male’s softly whistled warble or trill. ( To hear the song of the yellow-rumped warbler, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Yellow-rumped_Warbler/sounds. The myrtle race is most common in New England.) Yellow-rumped warblers often inhabit coniferous woods, where they build nests that are frequently lined with ruffed grouse feathers.


Brown Creeper

The high, sweet, musical notes of the brown creeper’s song greeted me when I stepped outside this morning. This small brown bird uses its thin, curved bill to pry insects out from bark crevices. It will eventually build its spider egg case and cocoon-laden nest in the same vicinity -- under a flap of loose bark on the trunk of a tree.


Eastern Phoebes Are Back

Eastern phoebes have arrived back in central Vermont. Their “phee-bee” song is a welcome sound of spring, but one can’t help but be concerned about their welfare -- the temperature outside this morning was 10 degrees F. Ninety percent of this flycatcher’s diet consists of insects (26% of which is made up of bees and wasps), and there aren’t many flying around in this weather. Fortunately, however, ten percent of a phoebe’s diet is small fruit, some of which still clings to trees and shrubs even at the end of a long winter.


Tufted Titmice Singing

The relatively tame and sociable tufted titmouse is defying our lingering winter weather by loudly proclaiming the arrival of spring. “Peter – Peter – Peter” is heard repeatedly throughout the woods these days. Unlike most species of birds, the female titmouse sings as well as the male, but not as frequently as the male does. In a few short months titmice will be building their nests in tree cavities, where they often line the inner cup of their nest with hair, sometimes plucked directly from living animals including raccoons, opossums, mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, livestock, pets, and even humans. The next Naturally Curious blog entry will be posted on March 6th; I am away photographing for future blog postings!


Black-capped Chickadee – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Have you noticed that even in the depths of January, there is a sign of spring outside your door? Male black-capped chickadees have started singing their spring song, “fee-bee,” in an attempt to claim their territory and attract a mate. This most obvious proclamation that the breeding season has begun is not, as one might think, triggered by temperature (it’s going to dip way below zero tonight), but rather by photoperiod, or day length. Longer days stimulate the production of hormones which initiate breeding behavior. Even though mating won’t take place for at least two more months, the air will continue to be filled with this most welcome of spring songs for the duration of the winter.

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES SINGING


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,491 other followers