Songbirds of the Northeast
Presented by Naturalist/Landscaper John Root on November 12, 2020
Bird songs are one of life’s simple pleasures! They bring joy to us year-round, from beautiful summer mornings, to crisp winter afternoons. And thanks to our diverse environment, Connecticut is blessed with a wide variety of songbirds.
If you missed "Songbirds of the Northeast", you can watch all, or part of the program at the following link - thanks to our good friends at the Berlin-Peck Memorial Library:
Naturalist John Root led us in an engaging online presentation of photos and recordings to help us all learn which birds sing which songs. He shared many insights into their behaviors and their specialized adaptations.
John taught us interesting facts about many bird species. He showed us beautiful pictures, played recordings of songs and calls, and showed us sonograms of bird vocalizations. Here are a few of the things we learned.
Blue jay families work cooperatively to raise their young. Mother, father, and older siblings all help to care for the youngest birds.
Crows have phenomenal memories. They are inventive, and will make and use tools. They will recognize and avoid a person they distrust. They will teach their young to distrust that person, too.
Ravens can fly upside down for up to one half mile.
In most cases, the male birds sing to attract females, and to protect territory. Some female birds sing. The male and female cardinals may sing duets together.
Some of the most beautiful-sounding birds are plain in color.
Bird song is a marvel of nature. The red-breasted nuthatch is a small bird with a loud song. He sounds like small horn. The wood thrush can harmonize with himself. The winter wren has a complex song. The song sparrow is a true improvisor. According to John, he “pours forth a concert of liquid gold”.
Tricks for Learning Bird Calls and Songs
Learn one call or song at a time.
Use recordings. Birds have quite a repertoire of sounds. The songs you hear a bird sing may not sound like the recordings you have heard.
Join a bird club. You can learn a lot from other birders.
John also explained how you can attract these birds – and other beneficial creatures.
Birds need food, water, shelter, and places to rear their young. And we can help them with all of these necessities of life. John urged us to consider landscaping for birds. There are many native trees, plants and shrubs that can provide food and shelter for birds. He also recommended two additional books to guide our efforts in this area. Both were written by Douglas W. Tallamy, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. They include: “Nature’s Best Hope” and “Bringing Nature Home”.
Caterpillars are essential foods for birds. Caterpillars are especially important when birds are rearing their chicks. We can plant native plants that support these caterpillars.
BLT Note: The book “Nature’s Best Hope” includes a chapter called Restoring Insects, the Little Things That Run the World. The author recommends the following website to learn which plants are the best host plants for caterpillars: https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder
Leave perennial plants standing through the fall and winter. They provide seeds for birds, and shelter for overwintering insects.
Remove invasive plants from your yard. Reduce the size of your lawn. You can do this a little at a time using sheet mulching/lasagna gardening techniques. Replant with native plants or ground covers.
Ways to Get Children Interested Birds
The magic of bird watching is to see birds and to be close to them. Ask children to sit quietly at the base of a tree. It is amazing to see how close birds will come if we stay still.
Teach children to watch birds through binoculars.
Encourage children to make their own lists of the birds they see, then have them color pictures of each bird on the list.
Join The Great Backyard Bird Count each February.
Participate in the Christmas Bird Count, from December 14 through January 5 each winter.
Help your child to make a bird house. Learn proper construction for cleaning and ventilation. Do not use perches or bright colors. They attract predators. Learn how to select a safe location for the bird house.
Planting for birds can be a good lesson in botany.
Other Resources To Check Out:
The Cornell Lab’s online guide to birds and birdwatching. You will learn about bird songs and calls, bird identification, diet, “cool facts” about birds, and landscaping for birds.
Bring Birds Back teaches us that birds are declining in number, why that is so, and how we can help. One section is titled “7 Simple Actions to Help Birds”.
John also recommended the book “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert.
The Berlin Land Trust sponsored this virtual program as part of our goal to educate residents about the local environment and the benefits of land preservation. We are grateful to the Berlin-Peck Memorial Library for hosting it. The library has many wonderful books about birds and gardening for wildlife. For example:
“Nature’s Best Hope” and “The Sixth Extinction” are available at the library in book, e-book, and downloadable audiobook formats.