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Img_1133 When I woke up at 7:30 this morning, my outdoor thermometer reported a stingy three degrees outside. However, for the first time yesterday, it was clear that it’s no longer December, when there is simply no light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, the sun is getting stronger. But there is now a more abrupt and definitive sign that winter is coming to an end: I heard bird-song.

I never realize how much I miss the birds until they return again in late winter. It doesn’t matter that I know nothing about birds. They are really important to my experience of the garden.

Of course by now, everybody has heard that migratory songbird populations are declining, though I can’t say I perceive it in my part of the world. The National Audubon Society is amazingly frank about what’s causing the problem: too many damned people in the world. Its "public policy fact sheet" on the decline of neotropical migratory birds actually includes these lines: "Over one billion teenagers are entering their most critical reproductive years. If these teenagers dramatically reduce their fertility, world population could stabilize by 2050 at far less than 12 billion." Those Audubons may be correct in the most global sense, but there’s nonetheless something disturbing about the straight line they draw: If you want to save the songbirds, don’t have babies.

I own 15 acres in the country that are stuffed with birds. My husband and I were only able to buy a weekend place in the country because apparently not everyone wants 15 acres of swampland, silly them, and it was cheap. I love my little landscape. We have a pair of insignificant streams, a lot of boggy ground that will suck the clogs off your feet, and a shallow pond. We’re also on a really high, underpopulated road that, except for my low-lying and super-fertile place, is mostly slate ledge, so the farmers fled long ago. As a result, the land around us is fairly wild.

The birds and I are in complete agreement: The place is heaven. Great blue herons land on my pond.  There are always loads of hawks circling overhead, policing my vegetable garden. Smaller birds camp out on the arches in the garden, looking for caterpillars and beetles and staying alert for the moment any berry or grape is ripe. (This year, netting.) The reeds in front of my house are always so full of milling birds, they’re like flies on a pale horse. Sometimes, the maple tree near the house fills up with so many birds, it’s hard to have a conversation inside.

This din makes the humans in the scene feel small and insignificant, and somehow that’s very reassuring. I like to think that we haven’t completely imposed our lousy taste and rapacious personalities on every corner of the earth. Bird-song is the most beautiful sound in the world–with the possible exception of frog-song. But that’s a subject for another post.   


  1. Yes! I listened to birds all day yesterday. The robins are back, and lots of little birds I don’t know the names of but they are so happy in the slightly wooded section of my yard. We’re not far from a state park, so we get some neat ones too.

  2. Your country place sounds wonderful!

    My heart lifts a little higher each time I hear birdsong. Add to that our daily (and nightly) froggy serenade from Feb to April, and it’s a-rockin’ and a-rollin’ around here. It is amazing how tiny Pacific tree frogs can produce such loud vocalizations. Somewhere in my garden is a red-legged frog, too. I haven’t heard it yet but it could be the poor thing can’t get a word in edgewise.

  3. I enjoy birds despite being woefully ignorant of their names most of the time. We had wildfires in the back country last autumn, and as a result we’ve seen eagles (rarely) and hawks (more frequently) than in the past, presumably because their rural homes were disrupted. Too often, it seems like people are like the crows that seem to be the neighborhood punks bothering the more peaceful song birds.

  4. My favorite bird in spring is the red-winged blackbird. Last year they were back here in southern Ontario on March 12. For some crazy reason, my heart melts when I hear their call: pure spring joy, I think. For the call, go to
    There’s a sound link about the middle of the page.

    Less than two weeks to go until they’re back. I can’t wait. I saw flocks of robins and cedar waxwings a week and a half ago.

    Today, we getting snow, and it still looks like deepest mid-winter.

  5. Hi
    I have noticed a dramatic drop in the song bird population too. We have massive increases in magpies, which are flocking together and are beginning to cluster in trees rather like rooks. The song birds that we have, often sing all night long (this may be due to orange street lighting which often lines some of the lanes).

  6. Oh my God–I can’t believe it–another person who waits for the red-winged blackbird! I live in Virginia, in a fairly densely populated area, but we are lucky to have a pond right behind our house. For the last 15 years I have associated the coming of spring with the sound of the red-winged blackbirds coming “home”. They have been here for about 4 weeks now, and I love to hear them every morning! We also get Herry, the great blue heron, hawks, Canadian geese, and ducks frequently spend the night at the pond and go off during the day. I love to watch them come back at dusk and drop down into the pond.
    Robins have been here all winter, cardinals, blue jays, and i did see some cedar waxwings a couple of weeks ago as well.

    We have turtles, and lots of frogs as well–not as many as we used to, but they still fill the summer nights with their croaking, and twanging.
    Have a happy spring, and enjoy the red-winged blackbirds!

  7. We are blessed with a troupe of competing Blackbird males that make their unique melodious calls throughout the day. We observed a huge drop in songbird numbers in CA, but right here in WA we are surrounded by so many birds from Bald Eagles and Blue Heron to Robins and Stellar Jays, to the tiny Kinglets and Goldfinch, it’s truly a bird wonderland here. I put the blame squarely on habitat loss and irresponsible cat ownership for the bird pop. drop in CA suburbs. So sad. We trapped cats all the time and took ’em to the pound. I know I’ll get hate mail, but birds come first to me.

  8. Lots of lovely spring-sounding chirping here of late. It’s different than “Feed Us NOW” and Feeder Wars.

    I have three old, neutered male housecats, and none of them are very good at bird hunting. More accurately, one is hopeless, one isn’t very interested, and the third has two teeth left in his entire mouth. The few birds they manage to catch (average one per cat per year) probably wouldn’t make it for long anyways, given the local Great Horned Owl in a tree behind my house and a handful of small hawks and kestrels.

    As for saving birds by preventing humans from breeding, how about a compromise: Make elective sterilization available to any woman at any age who demands it and still demands it a year after the first request. Why not make contraception of all kinds easier and less expensive to obtain?

  9. OK, here’s my weird bird story, speaking of owls and hawks – while walking in the woods one day, with my Chesapeake Bay retriever ahead of me as usual, something came plummeting down out of the sky and slammed to the ground between us. She ran over to it and displayed unusual interest (meaning it was something organic, not a rock or branch). When I got there, lo and behold it was a freshly decapitated bird. There were no power lines or anything nearby, I assume it was a predator. Mother Nature IS a bit scary at times…..

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