During the past week I was struck with the recognition that bird song, so palpable during the past couple of months, was tapering off rapidly. It's hard to believe that most species of songbirds have already raised their young and will soon be going into a post-breeding molt phase that precedes migration back south. It is indeed a short nesting season here in the northwoods. I want to take advantage of this lull in bird song to reflect on the importance of song in the lives of breeding songbirds.
This is the time of year when most birds are either sitting on eggs or tending their young. The timing of the hatch tends to coincide with peaks of abundance of the foods that are most important for development of the young. In my last column, I spoke about how many species switch from a vegetarian diet to a high-protein insect diet when their young are in the early developmental stage.
Those of you from my generation (betrayed by my picture) surely recall the Beach Boys' classic surfing song that is the title of this column. Many years ago, I gave up surfing for birding, a sport in which I'm actually capable of catching the wave.
Birders in North America eagerly anticipate the spring arrival of migrating wood warblers, a diverse group of small insect-eating species, because of their wonderful colors and songs. Also, for most birders south of here, the only time they can be seen in full plumage is a 2- to 3-week window of migration in May.
This is the time of year to expect to see throngs of migratory birds returning from the south, as they have for millennia, for another attempt at nesting and producing young. The earliest to arrive are typically those species that spend the winter mainly south of Minnesota but within the U.S. Common examples are American robins, eastern phoebes, dark-eyed juncos and sandhill cranes.