Bird Sleuth on the Case of the Carolina Wren

Have you noticed how quiet it has gotten outside in the evening and morning? Twilight and dawn? The crepuscular serenade of local songbirds has all but ended as the season turns from summer to fall.

Except for one particular standout.

Long after all the robins, cardinals, and black-capped chickadees have stopped singing for the season, this bird was still making its presence known, thanks to its piercing call.

I first heard it in 2017 – I remember because it woke me up one morning – and I made a recording on my phone that I captioned “Mystery Bird” because it was a song I’d never heard before.

I recently made a few more recordings of what I surmised was the same bird – again, because the “locals” had largely gone quiet with the end of their mating season. And then I chanced on a stroke of luck: I learned that Rich Guthrie – birder, blogger and retired DEC biologist – was going to be on WAMC Vox Pop one recent afternoon, specifically to talk birds.

I called in and played my recording for Guthrie and his co-panelist, Kathryn Schneider of the state Ornithological Association, who immediately said, “Oh, I think that’s a tufted titmouse!”

I was crushed. I was so certain it was a Carolina Wren. You’d be surprised how much time I’ve spent on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website trying to identify bird songs. Even though I live in the middle of Albany’s historic urban center, I take great pleasure in noticing changes in the natural world around me.

Those weekends in December when I find it hard to bake cookies because the sun is so low, it’s streaming right through my kitchen windows into my eyes. That first day in January when I can wear my sunglasses after 5 p.m. Sometime around Groundhog Day when I hear the black-capped chickadee, which my family fondly refers to as the “wee-hoo bird,” in Washington Park. Looking for the winter aconite’s yellow blooms in my yard right around St. Patrick’s Day.

All harbingers of the changing seasons for those paying attention.

Not one to take no for an answer, I found Guthrie’s email address online and asked if I could send him my recordings for another listen.

Victory was mine!

His response: “And yes, I’ll agree with you – barely audible but comes through (better than on the radio) as Carolina Wren – the bird on the back of the South Carolina state quarter!”

Guthrie went on to say that Carolina Wrens are not especially rare in this area, though they used to be, adding: “It’s one of those southern bird species that have come north in recent decades.”

As flora and fauna territories drift northward with the changing climate, what other new sights and sounds might we become accustomed to? And will we pay attention, or will those changes be lost in the background noise of our busy city lives?

What do you think? Is this a Carolina Wren?

For comparison’s sake, you can listen to the recording of the male here, and this is what the Tufted Titmouse sounds like.

Colleen M. Ryan has always been a storyteller. An innovative communications professional with experience in government, nonprofit and business sectors, she recently launched CMR Communications.

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