Taped about half an hour of that late night bird song for my parents at about 3:30 this morning. Played a little of it over the phone to them. Dad says it sounds like robins, though he says they aren’t usually awake at 1:30, which is when they usually start up around here. So I went a-Googling. The American Robin page on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Web site includes a robin sound file and I think Dad’s right — some of the birds who are making such a racket at night appear to be robins. I think there might be a whip-poor-will or something similar in there as well as I can still make out at least one bird making that three part trilling sound that I think is probably a whip-poor-will or something else in the nightjar family. (It’s not quite like the robin sound.)
The UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds offers the following interesting pieces of information about robins:
Because even low light intensities can trigger song in some birds, and because they continue singing until the last rays of light have faded in the evening, it is easy to see how the singing period could easily be extended into the night. This is indeed what often happens with song thrushes and dunnocks, and doubtless many other species, but the unrivalled kings as daytime birds turned night-time songsters are robins.
Robins are insectivorous birds that are well adapted to foraging in dim light, and even continue to feed under artificial light well into the night. It is one of the earliest birds to start the dawn chorus and one of the last to stop singing at night.
With this tendency to be active at low light, robins can be easily triggered into full song by a streetlight or any kind of floodlighting. Since robins keep territories all year round, they also sing all round the year. This has resulted in dozens of reports of nightingales singing in the middle of the winters night and other equally unlikely times and places, which have all turned out to be robins. In fact, the robin is the most common night-time songster in Britain’s towns and gardens.
There are other triggers, besides light, that can bring about night-time song in robins and some other birds. If a bird is suddenly awakened by a sudden noise like thunder, fireworks, earthquake, wartime bombing etc, even a sudden shaking of its roosting tree, it may burst into song.
Robins can even be triggered to join in the singing of other nocturnal birds, notably the nightingale, to which it is distantly related.
The area around where the birds are is really well-lit by massive highway light standards. There is also almost continual noise, of passing cars and sirens, that may well affect them. If there *is* a whip-poor-will there as well, that would be an additional trigger as the whip-poor-will is definitely a night bird. And now that I think about it, I hear them year-round — I just don’t normally have my windows open in winter so I’m rarely bothered by them. So maybe there’s no whip-poor-will at all. Maybe it’s just robins with an accent. 😉
So, there you have it. It appears I have robins with insomnia.