Sunday, July 3, 2011

Talking Points

or Unending Melody

Songbirds are a talkative lot.  They're always so busy communicating that you wonder how they ever manage to find time for nesting (warble) and feeding (tee-yee, tee-yee) and mating (warble, warble) and egg-laying (tseep) not to mention (arpeggio) raising (trill, trill, trill) young (tee-yee).*

Take Lesser Goldfinches, for example.  They're summer residents in this part of New Mexico, and I always hear them long before I see them in spring.  Their voices have a distinctive timbre, the tones less pure than the American goldfinch, a little more raspy, a little more plaintive.  They are the smallest of the finches, and the meek sigh in their two-note call suggests that they know it.  Two pairs (at least) visit the Nyjer feeders I've set out, enlivening the garden with their singing.  One of the males in particular likes to go through his whole repertory twice before he dines;  the others settle for calling frequently to one another—checking in, perhaps, with a re-assuring tseep to say, "I'm over here, still no cats in sight."

Although goldfinches chatter a lot, for the most part it doesn't seem to be empty chatter (though we could debate about that show-off male).  Last week, though, as I was lying on the sofa by the living room window, I heard a quiet running monologue going on—so quiet that I wouldn't have heard it if the window hadn't been open.  I looked out to see a female goldfinch alone at the feeder two feet away, eating with abandon and twittering softly about it to herself the whole time.  She did enjoy those seeds.  She stayed for quite a while, munching and murmuring, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase, "the appetite of a bird." 

I've seen and heard her a few times since then.  She'll arrive at the feeder with her mate, who soon gets spooked by something and darts off.  Our heroine doesn't go in for "flock think," though.  Instead of startling she pauses, looks around, assesses the situation (her judgment seems to be rock solid), and then happily settles in for the long haul.  The commentary begins:  "Oh, this is good.  Mmm, yes, that was a tasty seed.  So is this.  I wonder if this next one will be—yes, yes, very nice.  Oh, and there's another one.  Delicious!"  And on and on, seed after seed.

She is very round.

I like to think that she's the same finch I wrote about last year who had an unusual encounter with a hummingbird.  There's no reason that she should be, but then, there's no reason that she shouldn't.  Really, how many plump lesser goldfinches with minds of their own and a knack for getting the feeder all to themselves can there be in one small neighborhood?

Well, not being that much of a bird watcher, I can't say for sure.  But I like to think it's just one, and that she really knows how to have a good time, one joyfully celebrated seed after another.

And another and another...

*It's like a Wagner opera, only more cheerful.  The first (and only) time I watched Tristan and Isolde I wondered how the lovers ever did anything worth getting in trouble over when they were so busy squawking at each other the whole time.


  1. Cute and obviously smart finch, but maybe her constant jabbering is why she has the feeder to herself!

  2. She's just saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this fabulous seed!"

  3. I can not tell one bird call from the next for the most part. But imagining them talking to each other, that I can 'hear'. Your post is cute today with them in conversation.

    The birds are quite noisy at the feeders, especially the suet feeders. I had to take down all the feeders for summer because there were just too many birds. Now there are less, but they are more pleasant to watch.

  4. Judging by this post, you are back on form ;~)

  5. Deb--Oh, that made me laugh out loud! It's like she's slurping her soup or something, so no one can stand to be around her.

    Holley, I always love it when someone appreciates my cooking.

    Thanks, Donna. It's amazing how noisy they can be--I don't put out hummingbird feeders for the same reason. You really can have too much of a good thing.

    Diana, thanks--I'm "upright and taking nourishment," as one of my friends likes to say.

  6. We have some catbirds that add so much melody to our garden. They seem to be constantly is very nice...

  7. Stacy - I know too well about birds enjoying one seed after another. The only outdoor-sown seeds that they didn't eat were marigolds (they don't look particularly appetising) and sweet peas (probably too big for them to chew). I wouldn't mind so much if the birds visiting my garden were as pretty as yours.

  8. I think birds have such personality, both as species and individuals Great post! Sounds like the finch's chattering helped brighten your day when you needed it ...

  9. Well worth the wait Stacy. Pleased that you're upright and taking nourishment - always the only state to be in. I love the photos but I do have to say that they look a little er, fake. (Gasp - how rude). Please don't take that as an accusation but they do resemble stuffed birds removed from a milliners shop window. And then wired onto a branch and held up against a blue sheet.

    Anyway, we'll say no more about it. Why you should do that, I don't know but we'll say no more about it.

    (The chattering-finch-heroine reminds me of a Grimm fairy tale but thankfully without the gratuitously nasty ending).


  10. Sage Butterfly--catbirds give a great concert, especially once you figure out that their "mew" call isn't actually a traumatized cat stuck in a tree somewhere. (I've been fooled into looking before...)

    b-a-g, ooh, bummer. Somehow that adds insult to injury, when they sneer at a few of your seeds and gobble up all the others. Fortunately the goldfinches are picky eaters and only like certain kinds of seeds, most of which are thistly types, which I'm not going out of my way to plant.

  11. Sheila, I agree--they have such characters! Your bluebirds have been fun to watch from afar. I know biologists are always warning against reading human behavior into animals, but you only have to watch birds for a while to know that they're more than just bundles of instinct.

    Dave Marsden, I am shocked--shocked, I tell you--that you would suggest such a thing. (::quickly hides wires and branches::) (Do you know how hard it is to find a sheet that shade of blue??) Next time I'll photograph the mess they make under the feeder to prove how real they are. (Ew.)

    So far our heroine is more the Disney-fied version of a Grimm fairy tale, thank goodness.

  12. So glad you are feeling better. I happen to love the pix (real or fake). I have lots of birds here and enjoy most all of them. Some are just too noisy and rude.


  13. I have so many bird stories. I picked up the hobby of birdwatching from my mom.

    Here is my favorite bird story: My husband loves tinkering out in the garage with the garage door wide open. One summer day he was arm deep in car parts when the phone rang. He dropped everything and picked up the phone (there was a line in the garage) only to find the person had hung up. This happened a few more times and he was starting to get miffed. Then when he actually had the phone in his hand held to his ear it "rang" again. He finally figured out that a local mockingbird had learned our phone's ring tone and was happily singing away in the tree in the driveway.

  14. Elaine, thank you. (I promise the pictures are real.) Birds are so much fun to watch (especially when you're seated somewhere comfortable, not out in the woods craning your neck). Some of them do get squabbly and mean, though!

    Baffled, that is hysterical! No wonder your husband got miffed, having to leave a big, dirty project for the sake of a prank hangup "caller." I haven't been around mockingbirds that much, and the ones I've encountered have just been singing other bird songs. I didn't know they'd pick up ambient sounds too.

  15. Mockingbirds are cool. The males pick up as many 'songs' as they can to impress their mates. They will sing through their entire repertoire and the larger the repertoire the more prowess they have. The ones that live in suburbia indeed pick up all sorts of city noises including ring tones and my hands down fav, camera shutter noises. They are impressive birds and I usually have one hanging around my house each year.