Who needs American Idol’s Top 13 performers when my backyard feathered friends are “kicking it out of the box” as Randy Jackson would say? Last weekend was particularly warm here in South Carolina, which had just about every bird rehearsing for Avian Idol. And I, being much more like Paula Abdul than Simon Cowell, loved what everyone was wearing and didn’t think anyone sounded “pitchy.”
Right now, the male cardinals are really vamping it up at the feeders, belting out their “cheer cheer cheer” song. They’re dressed in their spring finery, too. A couple of them are as red as ripe tomatoes, which according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has distinct advantages. The brighter red males hold the primo territories, feed at higher rates and have greater reproductive success than duller ones. I guess it pays to be a star.
Ounce for ounce, the loudest singer is the Carolina wren. There’s one that sits on a deck chair below my office window whistling “tea-kettle tea-kettle tea-kettle.” With his head tipped up, you can see his throat moving as he pumps out the notes. The performance is dancy and flirtatious, though I don’t know if he’s looking for a mate, or singing to his longtime partner as Carolina wrens bond for life. Another neat thing about them is breeding pairs often combine their two songs into a duet, considered one of the most complex vocal performances among all animals. When the female chimes in during the chorus, even new Idol judge Kara DioGuardi can’t find fault with that.
The mockingbirds in my yard aren’t afraid to tackle a complex tune and wow the judges with their loud, persistent call. They also have the ability to add new sounds to their song repertoire throughout their lives. Mockingbirds not only sing throughout the day, unmated males will also croon into the night, especially when the moon is full. Even when Avian Idol is on hiatus, mockingbirds still sing, though their spring and fall songs are different.
I see eastern bluebirds in my yard throughout the year, too, though right now they’re getting serious about their future. The male serenades every female within earshot while flitting from one nest box to another on a serious house hunting mission. Even when I don’t actually see these blue devils, I can pick out their warbling whistle a mile away.
While some will argue this point, there’s no better time of day than the early morning hours. My backyard sounds like everyone has come together to perform one of those big cheesy group numbers you see on Idol’s results show. The pine warbler, tufted titmouse and house finch all add to the melody with their trilling. I just love it when they rock the house.
Of course, the vocals I yearn for most won’t happen in my backyard. I’ll have to travel to my favorite stage in the woods. But boy, will it be worth it. A combination of Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and David Cook, the gobble of the wild turkey is definitely a number one hit. And if I see and hear a wild turkey up close this spring, that’s one show I hope ends with a bang!