With spring migration mainly winded down for our region, there are fun ways to keep the magic of hundreds of species passing through alive throughout the summer until fall migration begins. You could learn the birds that have migrated to Milwaukee and are staying for the summer like the Baltimore Oriole or Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Explore your neighborhood and pay attention to any nests that have appeared and carefully watch the process of a new bird family fledging. Learn a new species’ birdsong, or… grab your headphones and listen to this curated playlist of songs about birds!
From classic artists like The Beatles, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson, to indie rock favorites like The Avett Brothers, Sufjan Stevens, and The Decemberists, birds are a common symbol used to symbolize everything from hope, to resilience, to love, and to grief & sadness. And the most part, the songs on this list name an actual species. But all songs reference a bird family that could be found in Wisconsin. So here are just a few highlights of the songs included in the playlist, with some facts about the birds that are mentioned in the song!
Birds of a Feather by Vulfpeck – YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is usually the first of the warbler family to migrate back through Wisconsin each spring. Their actual song is a sweet whistled warble. I’m not surprised Vulfpeck was inspired by this iconic bird of spring migration! Also included in this song is a mysterious reference to a Rathbone’s Warbler a reference to a naming mistake John James Audubon made when he was actually observing a juvenile Yellow Warbler. Misidentifications happen to the best of us!
Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens – Plover & Blackbird
While Sufjan doesn’t specifically state which plover or blackbird he is referring to, he could be referencing the Piping Plover, and it’s even safer to assume he is singing about the Red-winged Blackbird. Piping Plovers are small shorebirds that are listed as federally endangered in the Great Lakes region. There are thought to be around only 8,400 individuals and there are ongoing efforts to protect their breeding grounds, and help the population grow. Occasionally, they will stopover in Milwaukee on the way to their breeding grounds, but it is a rare occurrence.
The Wheels of Laredo by The High Women – White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrows are migratory sparrows that arrive as early as April and trickle through Milwaukee through May. They have bold black and white stripes on their head, that is reminiscent of a referee’s jersey. Their song is a mix of a trill and buzz, and according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is one of the most studied bird song because of the variation across subspecies.
Famous Flower of Manhattan by The Avett Brothers—Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebirds are in the thrush family-the same as American Robins. Males are a bold blue and rusty red, and females have a similar look, just a bit subdued in color. They occasionally overwinter in Wisconsin, but are also partial migrants who may overwinter a little further south to seek food. They are cavity nesters, and many people will put up bluebird boxes to help the population which has been increasing in recent years.
Enjoy these songs, and enjoy the birds that helped to inspire them!