Scott Rall: Which songbird sings the loudest?

Scott RallDaily Globe outdoors writer Pound for pound a bluegill is the fightingest fish on the planet. A smallmouth bass gives a great fight on the end of a line. A muskie fights the hardest of them all. In the end, the bluegill still wins the t...

Scott Rall
Daily Globe outdoors writer 

Pound for pound a bluegill is the fightingest fish on the planet. A smallmouth bass gives a great fight on the end of a line. A muskie fights the hardest of them all.
In the end, the bluegill still wins the title of the fightingest fish of them all. I am sure the sports editor who edits my columns will never find the word “fightingest” in the dictionary, but you readers will certainly know what I mean.
A muskie can weigh over 30 pounds. A big bass can make it up to about 7 pounds in Minnesota but a giant bluegill can reach to just over one pound. When you compare the fight to the size of the fish, the bluegill pound per pound is the greatest scrapper of them all in fresh water.
The common loon in Minnesota is also known for its great loon song. Every time I hear one, it kind of makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Their songs echo over the lake with a pure northern Minnesota accent that no one can deny. When you think of a loon you automatically think northern Minnesota.
There is another bird in the bird world that is just like the bluegill is to the fish world -- a tiny little scrapper that I have come to love. They are pretty common, but I don’t think many folks could identify them just by their song. I have made friends with two of these birds over the past three weeks and I travel to their spots solely to listen to them with my available time.
The bird I am referring to is called a house wren.
These are a very cool bird and one of the few songbirds in north America that is not endangered or threatened. They live all over the continent and have many different sub-species. They range from northern Canada to the southern-most edge of South America and thus are the mostly widely distributed songbird in the Americas.
The looks of all of the different sub-species are much the same. Where they differ is in their songs. They weigh only .35-.42 an ounce. They are only a little over four inches in length stretched tip of the beak to tip of the tail. They have a tail that is held cocked either up or down almost all the time. This is different than almost every other bird I watch.
The ones I visit both have one specific site where they like to perch and sing. One is on a ground wire at the top of a power pole at Round Lake Kennels north of Round Lake and the other is atop one of my bluebird houses at the wildlife property I call the “Outpost” south of Rushmore.
I have 15 bluebird boxes on this Outpost property and every one of them will hatch out a brood of tree swallows first. It is only after the swallows have moved on that the house wrens will take up residence and do their thing.
In the 10 years that these boxes have been up I have never hatched a brood of bluebirds. I have only seen one about three different times and they were not nesting. They prefer short grasses to catch insects and my property is almost all tall native grasses and flowers. The bobolinks and brown thrashers that I have written about before are all back for this season as well.
Both males and female house wrens sing, but for different reasons. The male sings to attract a mate and the female sings to keep other nesting song birds out of her space. A female house wren has been known to puncture the eggs of other bird nests she feels are in her territory.
She will often fill of the cavities of other nests with sticks to make them unusable so the nesting competitor will move on. All from a bird that weighs less than half an ounce.
The singing takes place during the mating and breeding cycle and then stops almost completely for the balance of the season. The two males that I listen to don’t seem to mind how close I get. They will sing and sing while I sit 10-15 feet away and listen. They twist and turn their heads and look at me but even if they fly away it only takes about one minute and they are back in their preferred spots.
Their nesting efforts start with the male adding sticks to the nest. The female will then inspect the nest and remove any stick she does not like. Once she is satisfied with the stick number they then add hair, spider cocoons, wool, strips of bark, rootlets and trash and then egg-laying begins.
Goes to figure that the guy could never get the stick count right the first time, even in the bird world. In my first 55 years of life I have given up ever picking a paint color. There is no way I could get that exactly right no matter how many times I tried. In my current life I could probably do better in paint color selection.
The research has shown that the more the female house wren sings the less likely it is for her nest to be destroyed by another bird. So sing she does, and for good reason. They lay between 3-8 eggs and they only need to be incubated for 12-19 days during which time the man does all the cooking. He brings her food and after the eggs hatch it only takes 19 more days till they fly the coop. His duties are short-lived.
They use man-made bird houses but in the wild often use old wood pecker holes or other cavities for a place to set up family shop. I think if the opening was as big as a large paper clip a wren could use it.
I used to see kids in wood shop class making wren houses. I wonder if they do that any more. I have seen a wren use an old robin nest on top of the gutter down spout on my house once, but that was only a one and done.
I have been so surprised by just how many different songbird sounds I have heard on my last number of wildlife road trips. I just stop and listen at different sites and there just seems to be an orchestra of bird sounds right now. It is possible that this might tone down later in the summer when nesting efforts wind down.
A stop at a grassland spot will get you a certain number of sounds and a stop at woodland spot gets you a very different set of sounds. Try them both and see just how many different sounds you can count.
I one time had a grosbeak stop in my back yard. He was singing a unique song. I found his picture in the bird book that had recorded songs of every bird in it. I pushed the button and it played the sound. He sang back. I played the recording again, and again he sang back. This went on for about five minutes until I had to go.
I did wonder years later if he stayed in my backyard for many weeks just hoping to see a glimpse of who he was courting but could never find. There are lots of nature’s wonders to experience if you can get unplugged from the wall outlet or away from your smart phone.
I will never be tech savvy but when I die I will be able to say that I was very fortunate to have experienced many of God’s creatures doing just what he intended them to do, in the habitat he provided for them to do it in. I am totally OK with that.

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