Summer Sounds: A Bird Hailing The End Of Spring

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Writer Bailey White adds her voice to our series Summer Sounds with thoughts about a bird called "Chuck-Wills-Widow" that signals late spring.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

It's time once again for the latest in our series on the sounds of summer.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

(Soundbite of song, "Summertime, Summertime")

THE JAMIES (Band): (Singing) It's summertime.

Writer Bailey White lives in southern Georgia. And as she tells it, her summer sound and it's when the season really begins.

Ms. BAILEY WHITE (Writer): Every early spring, I looked forward to the first night singing of the Chuck-Wills-Widow.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

Ms. WHITE: My mother used to note down the date of the first singing each year in the margins of Herbert L. Stoddard's book, "Birds of Grady County."

When I hear it for the first time, I make my ritual move from the winter bedroom to the sleeping porch. What a joy it is to be out of that claustrophobic bedroom and back on the spring-cleaned porch, the fragrance of wild azaleas, moonlight in the pines and all through the woods the merry night song: chuck will's widow, chuck will's widow, chuck will's widow.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

Ms. WHITE: The Chuck Will's Widow is a large brown bird in the night jar family. It eats insects and sometimes small songbirds, which it swallows whole. The male bird's loud night singing and the female's practice of laying her eggs in a flimsy nest flat on the ground make the Chuck Will's Widow vulnerable to predators.

In early spring, the song is a joy to hear wafting through the woods. But as spring heads into summer, the singer of certain individuals becomes faster, breathless, frenetic.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

Ms. WHITE: And a constant refrain: chuck will's widow, chuck will's widow, chuck will's widow, chuck will's widow, chuck will's widow.

In South Georgia, winter and spring are famously magical seasons. Rich people from Philadelphia and Cleveland used to flock to my town each winter and called it paradise. But summer is a dreaded season. Smothering heat, long spells of heartbreaking drought, stinkbugs in the roses, rattlesnakes under the steps and a wasp nest in every aluminum gate - these are the things I think about as the Chuck Will's Widow's song becomes desperate.

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

Ms. WHITE: One hot night, he was singing so loud, so pitifully hopeful, I could not sleep. Chuck will's widow, chuck will's widow, chuck...something had grabbed him in mid-song. There was a flap of wings then crunching and smacking. Spring is over, I thought, and now summer is here.

NORRIS: A summer sound from writer Bailey White. If you have a summer sound you'd like to share, go to and click on Contact Us. And, please, be sure to put Summer Sounds in that subject line.

(Soundbite of music)


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