Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mourning Warbler Meets Madison Avenue

Mourning Warbler, female (above), male (below)
by Louis Agassiz Fuertes Wikipedia

Although it was warm, it wasn’t the heat that made me so exhausted. I just couldn’t keep up with my 19-year-old boss. I earned $5 and hour that June surveying birds in scraps of habitat that remain in industrial Saint Louis, Missouri. He trotted through a mile of remnant prairie along the edge of Calvary Cemetery, never drawing a short breath, reaching our lunch spot well ahead of me. When I finally arrived at the thicket of walnut trees and sumacs, I had a horrible allergy attack—in fact, the only one I’ve ever had. In spite of my sneezes, I could hear the most amazing bird. Thankfully, he kept on singing while I wiped my eyes and wracked my brain trying to match the song to my bird tape. Peering through a spiny clump of Hercules Club (Aralia spinosa), I caught just a glimpse of a Mourning Warbler!

According to Birds of the St. Louis Area: Where and When to Find Them, the Mourning Warbler is a migrant only, “sparingly recorded” in most of May and September. The best shot at seeing one is mid-May, when the “seasonal occurrence bar graph” shows it as “easily missed”—a step up from rare. It isn't expected at all in June, and certainly not a singing male! It’s a beautiful and distinctive song—still, it’s hard to put a name to a song, especially if you haven’t watched the bird sing. Of course, it shouldn’t have been that hard to recognize the song of the Mourning Warbler.

Rare though the bird is in my area, the song is all too common. Every TV commercial or film director that aspires to add a little outdoor atmosphere throws the Mourning Warbler’s song into the sound track. As you read my list of TV ads and shows where I've heard it, keep in mind that Mourning Warbler prefers tangled, second-growth forests. Read more about this shy bird in Seabrooke Leckie's blog, The Marvelous in Nature.
Mourning Warbler in its favorite habitat
photo by Seabrooke Leckie

  • In a SUV commercial as the car drives along a lakeshore.
  • As detectives investigate a crime scene in a high elevation spruce and fir forest in Montana (about 300 miles west of its expected migration route).
  • In the “allergy eyes” commercial, when the allergy sufferer applies the product. (This one might not be too far fetched.)
  • In a manicured backyard, as Michael Jordan advertises hot dogs.
  • In an ad for the St. Louis Zoo, as 2 llamas sing, “Waltzing Matilda.”
  • Among the monuments and government buildings of Washington, D. C., in an antacid commercial.
  • In a baseball stadium, in an ad for a sports show.
  • In Manhattan, as a morning-news show host talks about pigeon control.
  • And my favorite: in a carpet commercial, along with the songs of Hermit Thrush and open-field loving Savannah Sparrow.
  • Listen for it, in a theatre near you!

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