WILD GEORGIA: Birdsong is rich and sweet in May

The Northern cardinal is one of few songbird species in which both the male and female (shown here) sing. In most songbird species, only the male sings. (Courtesy of Matt MacGillivray/Creative Commons)
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The Northern cardinal is one of few songbird species in which both the male and female (shown here) sing. In most songbird species, only the male sings. (Courtesy of Matt MacGillivray/Creative Commons)

Credit: Matt MacGillivray

Credit: Matt MacGillivray

Even before daybreak now, the spirited songs of dozens of songbird species commence as they greet a new day. The creatures sing, of course, to attract mates for nesting and to defend territories.

But I like to think that the sprightly creatures also sing for the pure jubilation of singing. Birdsong is a true marvel of nature, one that enriches our own lives. “Thank you for the birds that sing,” says a simple, well-known childhood prayer.

Bird singing reaches a crescendo in May, and here are a few birdsong tidbits to help you enjoy the avian concert:

— No bird in Georgia may sing more sweetly than the wood thrush. Its ringing, flutelike ee-o-lay tune can be heard in deciduous woodlands all over the state now, especially at dawn and dusk. Henry David Thoreau once said of the wood thrush: “This is the only bird whose note affects me like music. It lifts and exhilarates me. It changes all hours to an eternal morning.”

— The mockingbird is Georgia’s best-known mimic — able to imitate almost anything, from the vocalizations of other birds and animals to musical instruments and even creaking gates. It is also a beautiful singer in its own right with an amazing repertoire of more than 200 songs. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy,” wrote Harper Lee in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

— Some bird experts say that the brown thrasher, Georgia’s official state bird, is equal to the mockingbird — and may even surpass it — in vocal ability. Research shows that the male thrasher’s song repertoire may exceed 1,100 and be even as high as 3,000.

— Males do most of the singing, but in a few songbird species, females also perform. Both male and female Northern cardinals, for instance, sing — usually a loud string of clear down-slurred or two-parted whistles.

— Birdsong has influenced composers. Georgia’s famed poet Sidney Lanier, who also was an accomplished musician, composed “Black Birds,” which mimics the bird’s song on the flute.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be first quarter on Wednesday. Mercury and Venus are very low in the west at dusk. Mars is very low in the southwest at dark and sets in the west a few hours later; it will appear near the moon Saturday night. Jupiter and Saturn rise in the east around midnight.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.