Tuesday Tune: Song of Summer

photograph, video, and text by Brian Wilson

Eastern Wood Pewee

Deep in our shady summer woodlands these days, if you take a moment to listen, you’re sure to hear a lazy, pensive, almost melancholy sound: a slow, slurred whistle that echoes through the trees. It’s the song of the eastern wood-pewee, a dull-colored, inauspicious-looking little flycatcher. If you can get near enough, scan the tips of small dead branches high beneath the canopy, and you might get a look at this bird as it sings—occasionally fluttering up to grab a mosquito before returning to its miniature snag.

One reason I’m attracted by the wood-pewee’s song is how impossibly drawn-out it seems. Typically, it has four distinct phrases separated by a period of silence: pee-a-wee (pause), pee-a-wee (pause), pee-a-wee (pause), pee-oh. The full sequence can span thirty or forty seconds.

But its main allure is that it seems such a perfect expression of summer—of the warmth and deep shadows, of the sweet languidness combined with a hint of sadness as daylight begins again to wane, of the certainty that all we have is now.

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Here’s the full, four-note sequence (a high-pitched bird):

Here’s the last two notes (more standard pitch):