Birds of a Feather Sing Together

During my walk one sunny morning in mid October I encountered a huge choir of robins singing in the trees. It reminded me of the so-called spontaneous singing events in shopping malls that you see on TV. There were robins everywhere, in the highest of trees, in the bushes, and hopping around on the ground. Obviously what I was seeing was a group of robins migrating south for winter. If you have ever met a group of Canadian snowbirds flying to Florida in February you will appreciate what a joyous event this was.

One interesting aspect was the large number of smaller birds, such as sparrows, chickadees, thrushes and other small birds that seemed to be caught up in the excitement. They were also singing and leaping from bush to bush, and acting excited. I am not sure whether this was just a bunch of birds accompanying the robins or was a separate group that just happened along at the same time. Whatever, the next day, the groups of smaller birds seemed to be staying around, but the robins had gone.

I probably would have been more excited if I was a birdwatcher. I’m not. Therefore I can’t give you all the details about which birds were there, where they likely were going, and whether they fly low or high. But I do notice birds, how can you avoid that? And I have dozens of questions about this miraculous phenomenon of bird migration.

I do like birds. We raise ducks, chickens and turkeys. They each have their own songs to sing whether we call it quacking, clucking or gobbling. And although they don’t migrate, each group has their own noisy, and even joyous, moments when they all sing together in a chorus! The ducks do it when they first jump in the pond in the morning: theirs is a sudden crescendo of fast quack, quack, quacking. The drakes and the ducks all sound pretty much the same. On the other hand, chickens seem to celebrate laying an egg. The hen that laid the egg begins the chorus, like she’s so proud of what she’s just done. Her loud clu-uck is soon followed by the other hens, one by one, until they all are singing (clucking), then suddenly at the same time all stop! Since the chickens don’t lay at the same time, the chicken song is repeated numerous times all day long! The roosters aren’t the only ones that crow! Turkeys seem to be much more subdued, like people that realize they can’t really sing or carry a tune. But turkeys seem to think they are in some kind of audition whenever you approach them. If (in fun) you say “gobble gobble” to the turkeys they come running over, and they break into a gobble, gobble chatter. If you sing to them, something like “Old MacDonald had a Farm” they will give back that same gobble, gobble, gobble. Don’t they have anything else to say?

One day in mid November, a warm day with clear skies and a persistent north wind blowing, I could suddenly hear the honking of geese. As they got closer I was finally able to locate the origin of the sound. It was a flock of geese, about 100 of them, flying in their classic vee formation. The geese were flying quite high, which explains why I could hear them well before they came in sight. They were flying south and obviously had chosen the prevailing southward winds associated with a high pressure system to help them along. A couple of other flocks also came over that afternoon, all heading in the same direction, all chatting together, enjoying this fall event. It was easy to picture the geese flying maybe hundreds of miles in a day using the wind as they were. By contrast, the robins probably migrated at tree level and made only tens of miles per day: that’s why they had to leave earlier!

So when my friends leave for Arizona in the winter I feel like they’re the geese and we’re the domestic birds staying at home!

Posted in A View from the Outside, December 2011

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