Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Tireless Singer Finally Takes a Break

Since early May, a Scarlet Tanager has been singing in the woods around our house. In early June or maybe even sooner, it began to sing almost all day every day, one of the first birds to sing every morning, and one of the last to sing each night. But I think it finally has decided to take a break.

Although it sings almost constantly, I haven’t often seen it. Last Saturday morning as I was starting out for a walk, it was singing from the top of the big Red Oak down the street. I stopped on the edge of our driveway and from there was able to see it very clearly in the treetop. It looked tiny in my binoculars – but perfect. A jewel-like bright, glassy scarlet with jet-black wings.

It sang a song of six, then seven phrases; now and then only five. It sang one song (one group of six or seven phrases), then moved slightly, turning to face in a different direction, or moving a little further over in the tree, then it sang again. Each time it sang, it moved just a little before singing again. Unlike a Pine Warbler or Red-eyed Vireo, it wasn't foraging and singing as it went - at least not in these few minutes while I was watching. It seemed completely focused on its song, but was constantly on the move, as if it wanted to leave not even the smallest part of its territory undeclared.

Sunday evening it sang from the same big Red Oak tree as the sun went down behind it, turning the sky a brilliant mass of gold and orange and lavender clouds. As it turned out, that may have been the last time we’ll hear it this year.

Monday morning when I stepped outside, there was no Scarlet Tanager’s song. I thought it might just have taken a break – but didn’t hear it all day Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or today. I’m not sure what this means. Since Scarlet Tanagers sing almost continuously through the breeding season, it may mean the Tanagers’ young have hatched, and maybe that they have fledged. I hope so. I also hope we’ll continue to see them now and then, and hear their chik-burr calls for several more weeks – but the singing may be over.


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