He’s out there again. Singing his high, strong, lazy song. Peeee-ah-weeee! Peee-wooooo! A loud, squeaky, distinctive tone of voice, cheerful, almost like a toy bird. Not particularly wild, or beautiful, but certainly unique. This is, apparently, one of the characteristic sounds of the wood in the American east, during spring and summer, but somehow I’d either never noticed it before or this common flycatcher had simply evaded me entirely – like many common birds do.
Whatever the reasons for never having heard it before, over the last two weeks I’ve barely stopped hearing it. I picked it up during our first evening in the house, as we arrived from the airport. As we sat and ate round the dining room table, I could hear him sing. He’s there when we sit out on the back deck to eat dinner, he’s still singing at dusk when we’ve retired to the living room. His plain intonations ring out over the dawn chorus of fluty robins, me still barely awake enough to recognise them. I even heard him sing twice whilst I typed this entry.
You get the impression. This is a bird that sings all day. No particular variety in the song, other than an occasional change in the number of ‘pee-ah-wee’ repetitions before each solitary ‘pee-woo’. Just the same thing over, and over, and over. Now, I’m actually quite fond of repetitive birdsong. I look forward to the first chiffchaff of spring more than almost anything else, so evocative has it become to me of lengthening, warmer days; and I don’t really tire of its cheerful rising and falling notes all summer. But the song of the peewee? I remain to be convinced of its beauty, even if it does please me.
That said, there’s something that pewees do which I appreciate very much. Since the sound still slightly grates, I notice it every time. It sticks out, doesn’t fade into the background in the way that much birdsong can, pleasant, but buried for now in the subconscious, not top of your aural agenda. I can’t ignore pewees in the same way, and every time I hear one it’s a forced reminder of the world outside the window, the life that goes on around us, interesting things to be seen and wildlife to be experienced. It’s good to know that he’s still there, him and the rest of his diverse community of woodland species, birds, beasts, bugs and otherwise; and that nature hasn’t at last succumbed to the inevitable and completely disappeared whilst I was taking an afternoon nap.
It’s also good to know that a flycatcher can still be common enough to be almost a garden bird, in contrast to the spotted and pied versions that visit Britain in reduced numbers every summer. Being on either side of the Atlantic they fall into quite different families, old world and ‘tyrant’ flycatchers (despite the name, I can’t promise that pewees look particularly tyrannical – more gormless comic book bird, in all honesty – though perhaps if you were a gnat…), but evolution being what it is they certainly have a similar feel to them – the same upright posture, and rapid darting flights out to catch insects before returning to the same open perch. I know that many of them don’t look like much (although you should check out some of the pewee’s impressive cousins) but I’m a big fan of the flycatchers, and I’d certainly welcome any of them into any garden I owned with open arms. Especially if they took to munching mosquitoes.
Here in Maryland at least, I can confirm they are definitely garden birds – I finally located our pet pewee’s favourite singing perch at the very top of the tallest tree at the front of the house. On a few occasions, he’s had a go at calling out from bare branches behind the house instead, or silently flicked round the neighboring woods, catching flies. Because that’s what flycatchers do, as well as sing, day in, day out. Pee-ah-wee! Here I am! He seems to say. I’m still here! Long may you be so, and long may you sing.