Posted by: ktzefr | May 26, 2016

Bird Song as a Second Language

Maya Textile, Yucatan, Mexico.

Maya Textile, Yucatan, Mexico.

What an exciting morning!  I watched three baby robins being fed their breakfast.  I was in the right place at the right time, looking out the basement window to the nest tucked into a corner beneath the upstairs deck.  We had watched the robin parents come and go before and during the last 3-week deluge of rain and didn’t know if the nest held eggs or birds.  Yesterday, I thought I saw a beak.

This morning the three were in the nest alone.  Then the Mama bird came and perched on the side of the nest.  She quickly looked around, surveyed the surroundings, and flew away just in time for Papa bird to swoop in with a rather long worm.  Our back yard is woodsy, lots of trees and shrubs, and the ground covered in wood chips instead of grass.  So there are worms galore.  Great habitat for robins. 

So, Papa swoops in with the worm, and three heads pop up like tiny jacks-in-the-box with beaks wide open in anticipation.  Which baby would get the worm?  How would he choose? 

Apparently, robins are big on sharing. It was surprising to see how he managed by dangling it above one beak at a time and then pulling back at the right instant to divide the worm into three parts.  How cool is that? 


Some years ago I was birding with a Maya friend in Chichen (Yucatan) and marveled at the way he “talked” to the birds.   He brought the pygmy owl out of hiding with his whistles and held a variety of “conversations” with the flycatchers and tanagers and kiskadees that filled the trees along the jungle trails. 

Why couldn’t I talk to the cardinals and blue jays and robins that fill the trees in my own back yard?

Instead of merely looking for birds, I started listening.  It’s amazing what one can learn from listening.  I’ve become rather proficient at mimicking the call of cardinals, for example.  We “talk” back and forth on sunny days when I work outside on the deck.  And, for the past few years, I’ve been whistling for the blue jays every morning and they (7 or 8 birds) come for peanuts.  I don’t know where they come from or where they take the peanuts when they go.  But they answer my whistle from somewhere in the neighborhood trees, and a few minutes later they appear like magic. 

Since we now have a family of robins living right at our back door, I figure it’s time to learn their language.  It sounds complicated.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (my “go to” place for bird stuff), robins have a dawn song and a daytime song, alarm calls and “cuck” calls and yeepsYeeps can vary, depending on the situation, and there’s a chirr that sounds like laughter.  Perhaps it’s wise to learn one sound at a time. 

I don’t have a clue as to what I’m saying to the birds, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve never been attacked by a feathered friend.


Five Robin Facts

— The scientific name for the American Robin is Turdus Migratorius.

— Robins can have three broods a year.  Only about 25% survive until winter and only half the robins alive in any  year will make it to the next.  A lucky robin could live to be 14 years old, but the odds are against him/her.

— Robins are residents, for the most part.  They don’t migrate unless it’s for short distances.

— They can become intoxicated if they eat too many honeysuckle berries.

— Robins like to vary their diet, choosing worms in the morning and fruit during the day.  They are a good example of the early bird getting the worm.


Info: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birding in Chichen, Yucatan

Audubon Guide to American Robin





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