I love hearing the birds in spring. Their backyard serenade greets me in the morning, inviting me to share their symphony. Chirps, chatters, warbles and caws are all music to my ears. For me, the sight - and especially the sound - of returning birds are a festive rite of spring.
Whenever I venture beyond the backyard into the nearby woods, I listen especially for the lilting voice of a local Hermit Thrush. Like many other Vermonters, this neighbor winters in the south but returns to Vermont every spring. It’s our official state bird, and it breeds and raises its young here, so they’re real Vermonters - true natives!
The Hermit Thrush is a song bird that lives in the evergreen and hardwood forests of all fourteen Vermont counties. Indian legend has it that in the first days, Thrush had no voice. But while other vociferous birds squabbled amongst themselves, Thrush was busy ridding the forest of insects. As a reward for its hard work and gentle nature, the Hermit Thrush was given a beautiful voice and melodic song.
Songbirds are both the color and voice of the forest. It's hard to imagine a backwoods hike that doesn't mix silence and solitude with the sound and music of songbirds. Forests blanket three fourths of the state and they're home to more than 200 species of birds, including a wide variety of song birds.
Yet many song birds are among the avian population that’s gradually disappearing from our forests. According to a new report by the Norwich-based Vermont Center for Ecostudies, much of our bird population is in decline. Particularly hard hit are species that live on flying insects – including many song birds as well as other insectivores. Fortunately, though, the hermit thrush population remains robust.
Our Birds and wooded areas are a gift of the Vermont landscape, and a special part of our heritage. To see the flash of a goldfinch, to stand in the royal presence of a red-robed cardinal, or to be treated to a chorus of woodland songbirds, is to be reminded of our bond with nature.
After all, we too, sing to each other out of love - just like the birds – who sing, as poet Sharon Olds says, from "love of sound... love of other birds... love of singing itself".