Around Town

Why the birds are freaking out in Charlotte and when they will stop

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird

“The birds are unsettled.”

That’s what I thought when I woke up between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Thursday morning and couldn’t sleep because birds outside my window in Dilworth/South End were going nuts. I felt like I was in some delusional scene from a horror flick in which nothing quite made sense and everything was driving me insane.

Carol Buie-Jackson, board member at Habitat and Wildlife Keepers (HAWK) in Matthews, told me she feels the opposite. “I’m lying in bed enjoying it because I wont have an opportunity to hear it all year long,” she said. “I try to identify the different calls.”

Me: “That’s so cool. But is there an indication of when it will stop?”

Yes. Buie-Jackson, who also owns Bird House on the Greenway, said the sounds will settle down at the end of the summer — August and September get quiet because migration begins, so birds that are here for breeding season travel farther south, and those that spend the winter here from farther north haven’t arrived yet.

But the cacophony will continue for now, particularly since this stretch from the end of April to the first of May can be the peak of bird activity. Buie-Jackson said the creatures are all getting up early trying to find food for their young, to mate, to signal their territory.

She said they are basically saying: “I’m virile, I’m healthy.”

And morning time creates less competition with other birds and their sounds. Carolina wrens and cardinals are some of the first to rise, as well as mockingbirds.

I seem to be hearing the mockingbird at my current home, whereas I used to hear the cardinal at my house in Piper Glen as a high school student (I was in the midst of an environmental sciences class so I remember this like a vivid nightmare).

The northern cardinal is found throughout the eastern United States.
The northern cardinal Jennifer Taggart

The location of particular bird species around the city isn’t determined by compass orientation. Buie-Jackson said,”It depends on the habitat.”

Some birds like open areas, some like wetlands, others like open prairies or trees.

In case you’re feeling a grumpy curiosity and want to track down the names of the wretched birds that are keeping you wide-eyed and awake in bed, check out this educational resource, complete with bird sounds.

And if you’re an avid birder, take a trek through Latta Park in Dilworth, which is a huge attraction for birders this time of year. “It’s a nice linear park in the middle of all these trees,” Buie-Jackson said, adding that there is lots of brush and a creek to draw in the migrating birds.

And since the shrubs attract birds like warblers closer to the ground, birders won’t get “warblers’ neck” from craning to look up into the trees.

“Go outside right now, go to a park… see what kind of species you can spot,” Buie-Jackson said. “There are a lot of visitors coming through.”

Maybe if I can get some sleep first.

Photos: Charlotte Observer File, Jennifer Taggart/Charlotte Observer