May 21, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 17 July 2008 10:10
The night is supposed to be a pretty peaceful time, except perhaps when the winter owls, spring frogs and midsummer insects offer their songs and calls. But Lisa McCormick of Ridgefield has found that sometimes, the night offers noisy surprises.
“Since I’ve opened my windows the last few nights after our heat wave ended, I’ve become aware of an amazing bird living in the trees of our back yard,” Lisa writes. “This bird begins singing at exactly midnight and goes on until at least 4:30 a.m. It sounds like a synthesizer — changing sounds every few minutes, each completely different sounds. There are buzzes, chirps, whistles, melodic songs and more. It’s really loud, too! He has a repertoire of dozens of ‘samples.’
“My Internet research suggests this may be a mockingbird. Do you think so? Is this unusual around here? We’ve been here 13 years and I’ve never heard anything like it. We have a lot of feeders near this tree, and we’ve kept feeding all summer.”
A handful of species of diurnal birds may occasionally sing at night. The most likely to be heard in many parts of North America is the mockingbird, which will belt out its repertoire of songs in the middle of a spring or summer night — usually when the weather is clear and the moon is bright.
Only unmated males practice nocturnal singing, a fact that has led some to wonder whether it’s a desperate attempt by a frustrated fellow to find a mate.
Various authorities have suggested that the mocker actually sings better at night than in the day. Ornithologist T. Gilbert Pearson wrote in 1909, “It is at night that the mockingbird is at his best. If he is the music-prince of the grove by day, he is the song-king of the lawn on moonlight nights.”
Of course, there’s not much crooning competition at 2 in the morning.
Nocturnal song by diurnal birds may have advantages, but it’s also risky. Because of the quiet that night brings, sound carries farther than in the daytime, theoretically audible to females over a much wider territory. But the serenade can also attract the keen ears of hungry owls. Perhaps mockingbirds limit nocturnal singing to moonlit nights on which they can better spot an approaching owl.
Other occasional nighttime singers include the Sedge Warbler, the Black-billed Cuckoo, and the skylark. As its name suggests, the nightingale of Europe often sings at night.
Incidentally, there’s a short essay on night-singing mockingbirds on my blog. Just Google “naturegeezer,” then search the blog for “mockingbird.”
“In your June 26th column you mentioned a YouTube Blue Jay video,” writes Lambert Wixson of Goldens Bridge. “Readers who enjoyed that may also be interested in my Web site, faunascope.com, which has approximately 20 videos filmed inside bluebird and wren nest boxes. I’ve often wondered what happens inside those bluebird boxes; this shows you.”
The videos are quite lively and give a great picture of the work — and open mouths — faced by bird parents. The videos are not in color because black and white works better in the low-light situation of a nesting box.
Two weeks ago, Lois Kuperschmid of Wilton reported she had a hummingbird feeder that was often being emptied overnight. She wondered what could be doing it. The other night, she found out when she stepped out and found “a raccoon staring me in the face.”
The raccoon waddled off and Lois now brings in her feeder at night.
Sharon Audubon Festival, walks, raptors, demonstrations, music, food, activities, and displays, Aug. 9 and 10, 9 to 5, Sharon Audubon Center, 325 Cornwall Bridge Road, Sharon, Conn., 860-364-0520.
Bird Watching Cruises on Long Island Sound and Norwalk Harbor, with Larry Flynn, wildlife conservationist, Saturdays from 7:30 to 10:30, aboard 40 passenger ferry, $20, Norwalk Seaport Association, from Seaport dock, Water Street, 203-838-9444, www.seaport.org.
Bird walks with Luke Tiller, mostly Saturdays at 8 a.m., $10 each; to register, www. sunrisebirding. com/ walks.htm; 203-981-9924, luke.tiller @ gmail.com.
First Sundays, birding at Greenwich Point with Meredith Sampson of Wild Wings, and other guides, meet at the second concession stand, 203-637-9822.
Bird walks, first Saturday at 7:45 a.m., free, meet at Wild Bird Center of Norwalk, 335 Westport Avenue (Route 1), www. wildbird. com/ Norwalk, 203-846-BIRD.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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