For the Birds column: What is that bird trillling?

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers.

The birds are moving through, that’s for sure.

Mornings in New England are now filled with the songs of so many birds it’s hard to separate the voices. Throw in a mockingbird imitating the songs of several birds, and the confusion ratchets up a level.

A tufted titmouse (peter, peter, peter) broke the morning silence one morning this week for me; a robin (cheery up, cheery oh, cheery up) the next morning. I love mornings filled with birdsong.

Have you heard a bird trilling recently? A long series of quick, high-pitched notes often rings out throughout New England during the spring. But what is that triller?

Well, like many questions about birds, it depends. New England is home to several trillers; the most common being pine warbler, dark-eyed junco and chipping sparrow. They all sound similar — but different.

Pine warblers are one of New England’s earliest warblers. Throughout early and mid April — and sometimes a little later — pine warblers may be heard trilling from the tops of white pines. Pine warblers are dull-yellow birds and a most welcome sight and sound as they herald the beginning of the spring warbler season.

Dark-eyed juncos are the beloved black or gray and white birds that frequent the ground under our feeders during winter and early spring. They also trill, but I don’t often hear them sing.

Chipping sparrows are another triller, often singing from a high and obvious perch.

The other day a wave of chipping sparrows visited my backyard. During the winter, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers were by far the most prevalent species. It was nice to see the chipping sparrows. Some of the birds perched on the feeder and some scampered along the ground looking for seeds. Several chipping sparrows nest in the neighborhood, so they are here to stay. That is to say they are here to stay as a species. Those individual birds are likely moving elsewhere to nest.

It was interesting to note that wave of activity. I believe they were migrating birds as they left the yard as quickly as they arrived. They could have been 50 miles — or even further — by the time morning came around.

So if you pick out a trilling among the cacophony of birdsong you hear, it’s likely either a pine warbler, dark-eyed junco or chipping sparrow. If it’s coming from atop a white pine, it’s probably a pine warbler. If it’s coming from the ground, it’s probably a junco. If it’s coming from anywhere else, it’s likely a chipping sparrow.

Enjoy the music.

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