Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 5: Red-eyed Vireo

As summer progresses and we finally feel the heat here in Maine, we hear less birdsong. Most birds have nested and even fledged young by now, so there's no biological reason to sing unless you're trying for another nest: no need to advertise for a mate, no territory to defend. While a few birds still join in the dawn chorus or add their voices to the robin's evensong, it's generally a lot quieter out there than a month ago. Except for one bird, which seems to sing non-stop all day and all summer long: the red-eyed vireo.

Red-eyed vireo photographed by my friend Brian Willson
I can hear him now out back. He sounds like this. To me, he sounds like the long, lazy days of summer.

One day in May 1952 Louise de Kiriline Lawrence decided to follow one red-eyed vireo for a whole day. The bird sang for a total of ten out of almost 14 hours. And she counted--he sang 22,197 songs! (This is recounted in Donald Kroodsma's The Singing Life of Birds if you're interested in reading more.)

While the songs can get a bit repetitive by day's end, there's something truly lovely about the tone and cadence of the vireo's singing. A red-eyed vireo song is robin-like, a rapid series of chirrups. He sounds like he's asking a question and then answering it, over and over, a slightly different question each time: "Where are you? Here I am. Who are you? A vireo." He's got a lot to say. Kroodsma thinks that the males will sing as long as there are females out there willing to mate (vireos may have multiple broods in a season). So if the vireos are any measure, the trees in our neighborhood are quite the summer pick-up joint.

Lucky for our ears,
vireo's incessant song
is also pretty.

1 comment:

  1. Kristen, I was so surprised and grateful for your hypertext link to the vireo's song! And your haiku du jour could not be more perfect.