Sounds of Summer

Photo Group
Mourning Dove
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

Do you have a sound that says “summer” to you? For some it may be the sound of hamburgers sizzling on an outdoor grill - to me, it is the low, sad “coo-oo, oo, oo, oo” of the mourning dove. Though they sing much of the year, when I hear a mourning dove I can’t help but get a mental image of hot, humid, lazy summer afternoons. You know the type don’t you? The ones that you find yourself hoping for a thunderstorm to help cools things off a bit but always just makes it feel like a sauna!

 Another of my favorite sounds of summer is the nasal “pee-eet” that I hear each time I am in a large parking lot (grocery store, Boardwalk Square, etc.) at night. Few people know that this sound is actually a unique bird known as a common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor). No, they are not members of the hawk family. Nighthawks belong to a group of birds known officially as nightjars though some call them frogmouths or goatsuckers. Whip-poor-wills are perhaps our most well know nightjar. These amazing birds fly around with their “whole face” open and consume huge volumes of nighttime insects.

 Some sounds of summer are not as welcome. Two birds famous for singing throughout many summer nights are the American robin and the northern mockingbird. On any given summer evening, one or both of these songsters may find a perching spot near an outside light and belt out their happy serenade all night long. For a light sleeper, like my wife, 4 a.m. is not when she wants to hear a bird singing (no matter how pretty the song).

 Birds use songs and calls to communicate with each other. Many birds like herons have very primitive vocal capabilities and thus their voices are very harsh squawks, others like the northern cardinals and indigo buntings have elaborate vocabularies.  Most of the birds we associate with bird feeding stations have these advanced vocal abilities and are often referred to quite simply as “songbirds”.

 It has always amazed me how songs and sounds can stimulate thoughts, feelings and memories. I guess it is of little surprise that bird sounds factor heavily into that category for me. How about you?

By Mark McKellar

SUMMER 2003