“Yo Ketchup, Ketchup, Ketchup Can?” “Yo Ketchup, Ketchup, Ketchup Can?”
I know. This makes absolutely no sense, right? But these are the “words” that I woke up to the other day, when the world’s loudest bird began singing by my apartment at 5:00 AM. Of course, the bird didn’t really say “ketchup can” any more than towhees really say “Drink your tea,” or Chuck Will’s Widow says “Chuck Will’s Widow.” But the call was eight notes, arranged in a way that it sounded like syllables. A one-syllable “word” began the call, followed by three two-syllable “words” and finally, another one-syllable note. The bird’s voice was metallic, and he seemed to have almost a Swedish accent. Imagine Lawrence Welk saying “Yo ketchup, ketchup, ketchup can?” and you can kind of figure out the cadence of this bird’s call.
It took me several minutes to get out of bed (did I mention it was 5:00 AM?), but I managed to grab my digital recorder from another room. Can you guess what happened next?
Yes, you are correct. Mr. Ketchup Can Bird (I’m assuming it was a male singing for his mate) flew off. Later I heard a similar call (although it seemed less harsh the second time-maybe because my ears weren’t sensitive with exhaustion?) but couldn’t place it with a bird I could see.
I am holding out hope that this call was made by a bird I have never seen before, one to add to my life list. However, I am also suspicious that it may be something I am quite familiar with. I have four suspects.
Suspect #1: The Robin.
Reason: Robins are loud. Plus, they have many, many calls. Most people are familiar with their morning song, which is very melodic. They also make a very harsh call that sounds sort of like an angry monkey in the rain forest. There were a lot of robins around that day.
On the Other Hand: After checking several bird call websites, I could not find a record of a robin ever making that noise.
Suspect #2: The Cardinal
Reason: Again, this is one of the loudest birds, and they also have a variety of calls. There has been a male cardinal hanging around.
OTOH: Again, I couldn’t find a similar call on any of the websites.
Suspect #3: The Mocking Bird.
Reason: Loud. Can make any call he wants.
OTOH: It’s a little early in the year for them. Plus, they usually vary their calls. This bird did not.
Suspect #4: Not a bird.
Reason: It sounded sort of metallic. Could it have been, say, a bicycle pump? Squeaky bedsprings of the people upstairs? A jack?
OTOH: It sounded like it was coming from outside. It occurred at a time of day when more birds are up and about than people. Plus, I heard no human speech. If someone had a flat tire, there would be a lot of conversation (and, knowing some of my tough neighbors, a good amount of cursing as well).
So what do you think it was? Please e-mail me if you think you might know. I live in the Northeastern United States, so it wasn't a toucan or a flamingo!
I’ll publish your answers in my next column.