What to Watch for in June – The Sounds of Summer
By: Jim Spencer
Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon
What is the one bird call or song that defines summer for you in Austin? The one that is the soundtrack in the background, competing with the lawn mowers, leaf blowers, traffic and cicadas?
Ask birders and they will have a short list of four or five birds. Surely at the top of the list is the ubiquitous White-winged Dove. Its repetitive call is a soothing backdrop, a drowsy cooing that seems unfazed by the heat. Its neighbors often chime in, and sometimes launch into a melody that often ends with the age-old “who cooks for you” refrain. There is really nothing like a chorus of doves to accompany a backyard barbecue or walk in the park.
The proportion of doves calling and the calling rate for individual birds reaches its peak in May and June and then declines through October. Researchers have studied times of day when doves call and found the fifteen minutes before and after sunrise are the peak, although calling continues for a couple of hours and then tapers off. There is an uptick in calling in the late afternoon. It is thought that the longer call is advertising the male’s presence at a cooing perch, and the shorter call is used to attract a female and maintain the bond between the nesting pair.
The second bird that cries “summer” to those who are tuned in to bird sounds is the delightful Chimney Swift. Chimney Swifts are aerial insect eaters closely related to hummingbirds, but they are not well-known by the general public. They are well-named since they do use chimneys for nesting and roosting. A reduction in the quantity of flying insects as well as the practice of capping suitable chimneys and incinerators (with either brick or clay-flue liners) have led to a noticeable decline in Chimney Swift numbers. It would be a shame to lose these birds. Their staccato courtship flight calls are loud and distinctive. Look up, way up sometimes, and you will see a pair of long-winged cigar-shaped dark birds flying in unison, like synchronized swimmers in the ocean of air. Sometimes you will hear them chittering. In June, they are busy raising young. Later this summer they will flock together in migratory roosts before heading back to Peru, Chile and Brazil.
Other birds in the running for top summer hits include the Common Nighthawk, recognizable by its “peent” call in the evenings as it catches insects in flight over well-lit big box stores. The unmated Northern Mockingbird male might be keeping you up nights as it sings non-stop, trying to attract a mate. Its all night singing may broadcast how fit it is, but may have an element of desperation, at least to human ears. Last, the Purple Martin with its cheerful “chew” calls and bubbly songs can’t help but bring a smile to tuned-in listeners.
Visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website to listen to the calls and songs of these vocal birds. Then, for fun, get outside and track them down.
Learn More about Birds
Bird watching slows down a bit in the summer. The birds are still out there, for those willing to greet the sun, or bear the heat.
Travis Audubon Field Trips — Beginners welcome. Check the Travis Audubon website for field trips and details.
Compiled by Jane Tillman, Travis Audubon Volunteer