June is a great time to observe nature in the Verde Valley. The bird migration is near complete.
Many species are nesting. Several have already fledged a brood of young. The winter moisture has produced a very lush desert full of flowers, seeds, fruit and cover for all kinds of wildlife. It is the time of mesquite and acacia flowers and the beautiful white-blossomed torches of narrow leaf yucca.
Millions of insects have hatched just in time to become fat and protein for baby birds. When you take the time to look around and enjoy the natural world in its abundance at this time of year it is astounding. The sounds alone can be overwhelming. The repeated repertoire of mockingbirds. Papa quail calling until he is hoarse as he stands guard for mama and babies. Bewick’s wrens and Lucy’s warblers are singing their early morning and dusk songs. So how do we know who’s singing and what they are saying.
In the bird world there are generally five types of communication:
Calls -- between birds to keep track of each other
Songs-- to attract mates and to daily establish territory. Essentially mates fly around the edge of their perceived territory singing their best and their loudest to say: “This turf is mine, those bugs are mine, that shade is mine, that nest tree is mine and that girl over there is mine. In fact this little piece of sky is mine”
Alarms -- when danger is near – a quick, sharp call that their species and others react immediately to.
Greetings--an interesting array of squeaks, chirps, and clucks when mates or family members come together.
Begging--baby birds wheezy chirps say only – “feed me”
Although these sounds can be hard for even experienced birders to decipher, the breeding season is a good time to listen to the different sounds birds make and try and learn them. Good field guides give a description of songs and calls. But here’s the secret…most birders describe the song the way they hear it so they’ll remember. Some people claim the gamble quail says “Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go” Others think it says “qu-wail, qu-wail,” Navajo hear the quail song in their native tongue which seems to say “ahe’ hee’ ahe’ hee’”. The verdin says “you know me.” For many, the spotted towhee says “drink your tea-eeee.” Point being, you decide. Make a note in your bird field guide as to what you hear the bird say, then each time you look up that bird those words will come to mind.
There are many fine websites which show pictures of the bird singing as it produces sound.
Naturesongs.com is an excellent site produced by Doug Von Gausig, of our local bird songs with a Verde Valley regional dialect. Jay’s Bird Barn also has CDs of various bird songs and calls. You’ll find great joy in getting to know the avian voices in your backyard. Happy birding.
Dena is a seasoned naturalist, birding guide and educator. As manager of Jay’s Bird Barn in West Sedona she is available to answer questions about wild birds and enhancing your backyard habitat. You may contact her at (928) 203-5700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.