Two Tanagers and a Robin

Summit Grove, Oconee County, Georgia.

A beautiful, slightly cool April morning. Soft blue and white sky, warm sunlight filtering through the new green leaves on our oaks and pecans. A Blue-headed Vireo feeds quietly in the branches of one pecan tree, and I watch as it travels from place to place, cocking its head this way and that and looking upward in its characteristic way, as if uncommonly curious about what’s going on around it. Its bold white spectacles add to that impression, giving it a wide-eyed, intensely interested look. It is silent, not singing or calling, just feeding. I watch it eat one long, wriggly shaped thing that’s probably a caterpillar. The Vireo’s blue-gray head, grayish-green back, pure white throat and breast and wash of yellow on the flanks look elegant in the early sunlight, and I can even see the slightly heavy bill and the way it turns down sharply at the end.

The woods and lawns of our neighborhood are full of birdsong, bird calls and bird activity, all beginning in earnest around 6:30 each morning recently. A Black and White Warbler goes from treetop to treetop all around our house singing its high, squeaky-wheel song. A newly-arrived House Wren sings brightly, loudly and constantly, a cheery, burbly song, and I’m hoping it might stay around (I think there are a pair) and nest here. We’ve never had them before. They arrived just yesterday morning, singing loudly to announce their presence, and they’ve been vocal and active ever since.

Cardinals, Eastern Towhees, Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, and a Pine Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo and Yellow-throated Vireo all are singing, and a Great-Crested Flycatcher calls “Whreep! Whreeep!” repeatedly from the woods. A Red-bellied Woodpecker calls its purring “whirrrrr” and flies from trunk to trunk around the edge of the woods. The loose, softly jangling songs of both Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers ripple here and there all around the house, among the low branches of the trees.

But the highlight of the morning has been the songs of a Summer Tanager, a Scarlet Tanager and a Robin. All three have been singing nearby, and it has been a perfect opportunity to listen to them and compare. The Robin sings from two or three houses down the street from us, in a sweet, clear voice with distinctly thrush-like qualities. A Summer Tanager sings from a perch in the very top of one of our pecan trees, whose new leaves are still not fully opened. He glows a slightly orangish-red in the sunlight, and his song, though “robin-like,” is harsher, less musical, with distinctly “tanager-like” qualities, and clear pauses between the phrases. The Scarlet Tanager sings from the woods, hidden in the trees. He’s been singing for several days now in the same area, but I’ve not yet seen him, and I think he prefers singing from lower, less prominent perches than the Summer. His song, though, is unmistakable. It sounds more like a Robin than the Summer Tanager does, but is hoarse, and less musical than a Robin, and faster and less varied than the Summer. I think I would say that the Scarlet Tanager’s song is less baroque than the Summer, who sounds rather rounded and curled. The Scarlet’s song is more direct and less ornamented.

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