Calls, Whistles, and Bird-Words

“My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Windhover” –

One late autumn morning a few years ago, I awoke to the sound of tap-tap-taps overhead on my roof along with a constant high, thin, pulsing squeal, like someone was trying to play the highest note on the thinnest of violin strings. I looked out the window and discovered that a huge flock of cedar waxwings had landed in the hackberry trees around my house and were joyfully feasting on the berries. Stray berries shaken free of the branches were dropping on the roof, tap-tap-tapping like small hailstones. The waxwings’ call was the high, thin sound I was hearing, what one bird book refers to as “high-pitched, hissy whistled notes.”

Since that time, we’ve had a few cedar waxwings visit us but never a gathering as large as we had that morning. More common are cardinals, white-throated sparrows, wrens, robins, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and blue jays. We do have a nuthatch who drops by once in a while, and sometimes we’re treated to bluebirds and goldfinches. For a few months each summer, we have hummingbirds, and in the winter, juncos. I’ve tried to learn the birds’ calls so I can recognize them. The easiest is the chickadee, who introduces herself when she sings chick-a-dee-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee-dee. But that’s only one of her calls. My bird book says that chickadees have ten vocalizations.

My ear often hears words in a birdcall. I recognize the tufted titmouse when I hear feeder-feeder-feeder. The Carolina wren says, chewy-chewy-chewy-chewy-chewy-chewy or preach-it, preach-it, preach-it. The white-throated sparrow sings, where are you oh-my-love, oh-my-love, oh-my-love? The cardinal calls, it’s your home, it’s your home, it’s your home, pretty-pretty-pretty. And the blue jay squawks, Hey! Hey! Hey! The blue jay is an intriguing bird though, considering they are able to mimic many different birdcalls, as well as human voices apparently! Some people believe there are symbolic meanings to seeing certain birds, for example maybe have a read over this article regarding the Bluejay meaning if you’ve seen one recently (or hope to in the future!) Although I have to say, I’ve yet to discover which bird is singing Rock-City, Rock-City, Rock-City. Or the one that calls cheeseburger-cheeseburger-cheeseburger.

At least that’s the way I hear bird songs. You may hear different words – or you may not hear words at all, simply the song. Either way, keep your ears open for birds this week, and let their songs invite you to pause and enjoy the serenade!

“I will make you . . . toys for your delight

Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson, Songs of Travel

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.