23 Jun 2011 – Concord, MA
Hearing a bird call I don’t recognize, in my yard, is… well, I can’t remember the last time it happened.
This is suburban eastern Massachusetts, oak and white pine forest with lots of small openings and gardens. The common birds that I hear every day are Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay, American Robin, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler, American Goldfinch, etc. It didn’t sound like any of those. My brain wanted to match it with Tufted Titmouse at first, because it was a series of three strong whistled notes, but the pattern was wrong and unlike any Tufted Titmouse.
The notes had an emphatic, explosive quality that reminded me quite a bit of the “pip-pip-pip” call of Olive-sided Flycatcher, and actually that was the best match I could come up with, but it would be very unusual in this place and time and it didn’t sound quite right. I considered the thrilling possibility of a vagrant from the neotropics. Maybe this is what Crowned Slaty Flycatcher sounds like? I considered the possibility that it was an escaped cage bird.
There were two real possibilities: it was either a rare bird I had never heard before, or a rare or abnormal vocalization of a common bird. I suspected the latter. Since this was June in Massachusetts I knew that it could be the begging call of a fledgling bird, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.
When I heard it in the treetops I also heard the calls of an adult Baltimore Oriole nearby, which is a species that nests in the neighborhood within a few hundred yards. Given that, I checked online audio recordings and found a match. It was a fledgling Baltimore Oriole. You can hear better recordings of the call here:
The Fledgling Project – click on Baltimore Oriole
Calls of fledgling birds are often a source of confusion this time of year. I may have heard this call before, and forgotten it, but it is probably only used for a few days by each individual fledgling, so if you’re not in the right place at the right time you could easily go through a season (or several) without hearing it. What makes it especially confusing is that it doesn’t particularly sound like a begging call. Most fledgling calls have a certain wheezy and immature quality, they just sound like baby birds, but not this one.
I’ll just have to try to remember it in the future.