The Early Bird

As I was laying in bed one morning, listening to the raucous call of a blue jay, it occured to me that I am woken up by different birds most of the months of the year. We try to have the door to our balcony open as many nice nights as possible since we love the cool, fresh air. The downside is that my little birdie alarms always go off at sunrise or even slightly earlier! Good thing I’m a morning person.

Month by month

The winter months are when I wake up the latest since the sun also sleeps in. At that time of year our windows are closed, obviously, so I only hear the loudest birds. There are two that can wake me from a deep sleep - the blue jays and the crows. They take turns, all winter long. When I am out on my daily walk I can hear the chickadees and cardinals and sparrows but I always think of the jays and crows as my winter alarm clock.

In March I notice a change in the birds. I am still being woken up by the same birds but when I’m out walking I hear the cardinals singing their mating song. I see bright flashes of red as the males start chasing eachother around to figure out terrritories. Instead of the chip, chipping I’ve heard all winter, I start hearing their full song and I rejoice because that is the first harbinger of spring.

By late March and into early April I’m on the lookout for my first robin of the year. That is my alarm clock bird for April. I think that whoever coined the phrase, “the early bird gets the worm” must have been thinking of a robin. They are up very early and are after worms while I’m still rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The robins often start singing before sunrise. Many a morning I have had to work really hard to appreciate robins, especially before 6am. They are one of my favourites though and their return in the spring is always a high point in my year.

By the end of April the robins have settled into their territories and I’m on the lookout for my next alarm clock bird. At this point in the year I’m usually looking online to see where the hummingbirds are in their migration. I want to get my nectar feeders out in time for their return since they are tired and hungry after their trip.

It’s not the hummingbirds that are next in my wake up call though, but a bird who is usually hot on their heels during the migration, the Baltimore Oriole. I know that if the hummingbirds are on their way back, the orioles won’t be far behind. I have nectar for both the hummingbirds and the orioles but the orioles get an added treat - a jelly feeder. Once the first few orioles find the jelly, it’s an all out brawl to see who gets to ear first. I’ve seen 5 or 6 at a time try to muscle their way to the jelly. They have a serious grape jelly addiction, which is why, if you pay attention, you have to hunt around town to find grape jelly from April to July. The stores sell out pretty quickly around here. I start stocking up in February! Most of May, I wake up to the oriole’s beautiful song.

At this time of year many of my favourite birds are returning to our region; cowbids, grosbeaks, warblers, flycatchers. The next bird on my alarm list never left though, or at least it’s a bird I have seen right through winter on my property but then I feed them all year long and they know it. The wren. His song always brings a smile to my face. Such a little bird and such a loud, complex and beautiful voice! Once he starts singing in May, he doesn’t stop all summer. We have several bird houses in the back by the ravine and the wrens nest in them.

June is a grab bag of voices around here, although the robin and the wren are definitley the early birds so it is most often them who wake me. As the sun comes up though, everyone starts singing. July is much the same though a bit more peaceful. I think they are tired out from raising their chicks and just want to sleep in a bit and have some peace and quiet. August gets loud again, though it’s not a bird this time. It’s the cicadas. For weeks they are constatnly buzzing in the trees. By the end of August they’ve mostly stopped. Now we’re back to September and as I sit here typing away, I can hear a jay outside telling everyone that summer’s over.

A Side Note

As an aside, I noticed that the summer birds left a bit early this year. It caught my attention when the orioles weren’t coming to the jelly at the end of August. They usually take a couple weeks off the jelly while they are busy catching bugs for their babies who need the protein. Most years, they come back to the jelly with their kids once they’ve fledged. Not this year! I was pondering that when I noticed that the sunflower seeds haven’t been diappearing at the alarming rate they did all summer. That’s when I realized I hadn’t seen a grosbeak for a while either. I was talking to a friend of mine who lives further north and she said that their summer birds had already left by mid-August.

This can only mean one thing - batten down the hatches, it’s going to be a nasty winter! It’s either going to start early or be very cold or very snowy and the birds, by the amazing providence of our mighty God, know. They want to get out of Canada before it hits. That is never a good sign for those of use who think winter and snow should be confined to December and maybe a bit of January. The birds have done their part and given us the early warning. Now it’s up to us to make sure we’re ready.

On the bright side, male cardinals look amazing in the snow! Only 7 more months before I can start looking for robins again!