It’s late April in Maine, which means it’s high time for avian romance. More than 100 bird species are flying into the state every night from as far as South America, joining the hundred-plus species that live here year-round, all with the same set of goals:
1 — Find a mate.
2 — Mate with that mate.
3 — Lay eggs.
4 — Feed nestlings until they can survive on their own.
5 — Get the heck out of Maine before it gets too cold (migrants only).
Most birds at this stage of spring are still in the first stage, and one of the primary ways they find a mate is by singing – loudly and incessantly. Males and females of most species sing at least sometimes, but right now the music you hear is mostly male birds warning each other off and advertising their territories to females.
All these love songs can be overwhelming after a long quiet Maine winter, so I’ve put together a little guide to the most common bird songs you’ll hear this spring to help you identify the species that woke you up so early in the morning.
• Sounds like: A loud, clear “Cheerily! Cheer-up! Cheerily!” — This is the American robin, famous for being the first suburban birds to sing in the morning and the last to quiet down at night. Their cheerful tone is extra-annoying when it wakes you up in the morning, and robins are the bird I hear people complaining about the most each spring.
• Sounds like: A laser gun battle. “Pew! Pew! Pew!” — Northern cardinal. Did you know Northern cardinals were really rare in Maine before about the 1970s? It’s true. But they’re here now (they followed the suburbs, basically) and they’re fond of singing their loud, clear, sci-fi songs from near the tops of trees.
• Sounds like: “FEE-BEE!” — There are two contenders here: Black-capped chickadee and Eastern Phoebe. Our state bird gets its name from its “chick-a-dee-dee” call, but its song is a drawn-out “feee-beee,” sort of like a rusty see-saw. Phoebes are small, gray flycatchers that issue a high-pitched, quick “FEE-Bee!” emphasizing the first “Fee.”
• Sounds like: “Peter! Peter!” — It’s the loud, clear song of the tufted titmouse, a close relative of chickadees. This is a difficult one for a lot of people in my experience, as titmice aren’t quite household names like some of the other species, and they’re often obscured near the tops of trees when singing.
• Sounds like: A low “Woooo WHEW Wooooo Woooo.” — The sad, sonorous song of the mourning doves gives the species its name. One of the most numerous birds in the entire country, mourning doves are as at home in the woods as they are in the city, and you may hear this song from your window sill or the telephone wires nearby.
Those are some of the most common ones, but there are hundreds more to learn and enjoy. Listening to the birds around you is the easiest way to get in touch with nature, even in the middle of a human landscape.
Enjoy the spring!
Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.