Stop and Appreciate the Songbirds

By BRUCE AUCHLY for Montana Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks

There is something about songbirds this time of year that can catch the ear, eye and heart of even the most preoccupied person.

It doesn’t matter where: mountain tops, middle of the prairie, downtown, uptown.

It doesn’t matter what you call them: tweety birds, little brown jobs, neotropical migrants.

Songbirds are nesting, raising young and – at least the males – singing their blessed little hearts out.

Sure a dedicated birder with keen hearing can tell the difference between the songs of a savannah sparrow and vesper sparrow. Or with a quick glance through binoculars identify a chestnut collared longspur atop a bit of sagebrush at 100 yards.


Good for those bird watchers who rise at dawn and drive lonely country roads to look, listen and count.

For the rest of us, sometimes appreciation is just the ability to be in the moment. Stop. Look around. Listen.

The best time of year for skiers might be the first heavenly dump of powder; for anglers it might be the salmon fly hatch; for locavores the farmer’s market.

But maybe the best time of year for everyone is today.

In reality, listening for the musical notes of a songbird in town is difficult and not just because of our manmade sounds. English house sparrows and European starlings, neither of which is native, can drown out and drive out many native songbirds. And not many of us would list the songs of house sparrows as melodic; too much monotonous chirping.

Even so, in Montana’s largest cities there are still mourning doves cooing and yellow warblers singing out their “sweet, sweet, summer’s sweet.”

Yes, technically mourning doves are not songbirds. But they are native and produce a wonderful cooing, or mourning sound, that’s often associated with cool summer mornings.

The best bet is head to the outskirts of town, whether to the forest, prairie or along a river. Take a pair of binoculars, a good bird book, and maybe a bottle of mosquito repellant.

Then, do as your mother probably asked of you; sit down and be quiet.

Within a few minutes the air will fill with a symphony of shrill notes, pulsing trills and jingling, metallic melodies. Shortly thereafter, a bit of bright color will likely glance nearby.

The best time of day is dawn, but even midmorning can work. Mostly what you will look for and listen to are the males. They are flashy as they try to attract females to them, and they sing with the same purpose in mind.

Just a few ounces of feathers and bones, yet songbirds could give lessons to opera singers. And without meaning to, they make our day better. They pay us no mind, but their voices give us dividends.

Here’s a warning, though, don’t wait, don’t put off a chance to brighten your day. Some of those wonderful little bits of feathers will be heading south in a couple of months.

Make now the moment. Carpe diem.