Missing – Eastern Wood-Pewee, Field Sparrow, Chuck-will’s-widow

As we settle into the long, hot days of summer, birdsong has shifted to a much more scattered and less exuberant pace and spirit, as always. But even given this normal pattern, some songs are conspicuously missing from our neighborhood this year.

The first one that comes to mind – and probably the one I miss the most – is the lazy, dreamy pee-a-wee – whee-oo of an Eastern Wood-Pewee. This used to be one of the most familiar sounds of a summer afternoon, as the small grayish, flycatching birds with white wing-bars and slightly crested, dusky-dark heads sang from trees scattered across shady yards. For the past several years, their numbers here have seemed to decline steadily, and this year I’ve heard no Wood-Pewees singing here at all. Not even one.

The light, bouncing notes of a Field Sparrow have completely disappeared from the overgrown fields and open areas, along with the rising, buzzy, piping song of a Prairie Warbler, and the strange squawks and whistles of a Yellow-breasted Chat. Perhaps most surprisingly, I have not heard or seen a Gray Catbird this year in any of their usual spots.

Though fireflies flash and bats circle and dip in the long orange twilights, and katydids and other insects chatter loudly, warm summer nights seem strangely empty without the shimmering, resonant call of a Chuck-will’s-widow. Now and then we hear the deep who-cooks-for-you calls of a Barred Owl or two – but their visits, too, have become less and less common, no longer a real and near presence in our woods.

Other birds, especially neotropical migrants like Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak in the fields and power cuts, and Wood Thrush and Acadian Flycatcher in the woods, have not been completely absent this year, but they are noticeably fewer and less often heard. In recent years, Black-and-white Warblers have been common in our woods, regular singers in several different places, but this year I heard them rarely in the spring and so far not at all in summer.

On a brighter note, we regularly see and hear both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, a Northern Parula, Great-crested Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

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