I tend to measure the onset of Spring by when the Cardinals start to sing – which means that Spring arrived this year on Feb. 7. I was listening to the almost-unfamiliar calls of the White-throats in the fence-row outside my window (meaning that they are beginning to move around a little, since they weren’t here last week), when I realized there was a Cardinal tweet-tweet-tweet-ing a couple of houses down. Probably up in one of the big Silver Maples down the block; they’re the highest trees for a good distance. Listening to him reminded me how variable Cardinals’ songs are, but how instantly recognizable they are at the same time. That bright, clear whistle always says “Cardinal” whether the song is “bird-id-y, bird-id-y, bird-id-y, tup-tup-tup-tup-tup” or (like this one) alternately “tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet” and “Peer, peer, peer, peer”. It’s remarkable how variable the songs of different Cardinals can be in just a local area – I wonder if anybody has ever looked into it: whether Cardinals disperse far more than most songbirds from their natal area, or whether Cardinals are just a whole lot more plastic in their development of the final song. It’s funny how Spring comes in, too – outside it’s still frosty and breath-cloudy, but there’s a lot of noise that wasn’t there even this weekend – Robins, Goldfinches, House Sparows and various other sparrow-ish-sounding birds are chattering and chirping, a Blue Jay is belling and the Crows are sporadically yelling back and forth. Now that I think about it, it’s different this year – no Fish Crows to speak of, meaning that the American Crows have essentially reclaimed thir turf, and more interestingly, no House Finches. They’ve quietly disappeared from the area, which is kind of surprising. I can’t actually remember when I last saw a House Finch around here, or heard one, for that matter. They generally started singing in the middle or latter half of January, and were as common as House Sparrows just a decade ago. I wonder whether it’s just a local thing, or a more regional one.
Well, anyway, now that Spring is here, I better start thinking about chopping off my winter coat of hair and beard. Probably a good thing – I was looking a bit like a Neanderthal hobo version of Albert Einstein. There may still be some cold winds blowing down my neck, but it’s always easier to take when the Sun is bright again and the birds are singing.