Stanley Tate on Birds

Tenants in my yard

One and one half acres, according to the Deed Books of Carroll County, are the extent of my real estate holdings on Foggy Bottom Drive.

Like other great landowners, I have tenants. They are negligent about rents and housekeeping but very exact about tenures. At every daybreak from April to August they proclaim their boundaries to each other and so acknowledge, at least by implication, their fiefdom to me.

Contrary to what you might think, this daily ceremony begins with the utmost decorum. Who laid down its protocols I do not know.

About 7 a.m. my dog Buddy and I step through the door of my house to begin our morning walk. We linger a while by the front steps as Buddy checks for trespassers and messages before moving off around the yard and up the driveway. This is the signal for the proclamations to begin.

At 7:05 the mockingbird in the holly at the corner of the house announces his presence by a series of sullen “smacks.” The nearest Wood Thrush avows, with a flute-like melody, that he holds the thicket of devil’s walking stick behind the perennial border. One by one all other Wood Thrushes within earshot recite their respective holdings. There are no disputes so I just listen.

Before the Wood Thrushes have quite gone their rounds, the robin in the pine above the Japanese maple warbles his off-key claim to it and all appurtenances pertaining thereto — meaning, in his case, all the bugs and worms inhabiting the adjacent lawn.

The robin’s insistent calling rouses the towhee who now tells the world of towhees that the forsythia at the top of the driveway belongs to him, together with all edible things he can scratch up from beneath it.

It is 7:30 and a bluebird assumes his perch on top of the birdhouse in the front yard and asserts title to the house and the expanse of lawn to its east and west.

Next the wren —the one who sits on the crest of the roof above the patio—explodes into song. Half a dozen other wrens answer him and now all is bedlam. Thrashers, catbirds, Chipping Sparrows, titmice, chickadees, cardinals, and vireos—all are at it. My list of performers in their order and time of first song hesitates and ceases because my ears can no longer filter out one from the other. Besides, Buddy has finished his morning rounds, the sun is just rising and the coffee and breakfast are ready in the kitchen.



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