I was driving to one of my favorite places to find birds in Morris County, New Jersey, near where I live, when I heard a strange noise and wondered what was happened to my engine.
When I stopped at an intersection, I realized it was not my engine, but an invasion.
Specifically, a cicada invasion.
You know the routine. It’s been the same since we were children. The middle of summer is defined by the whir of cicadas by day, and crickets by night. Both insects are doing the same thing – the males are calling out their availability to mate with females.
This, however, is another type of cicada. This one has the science fiction name of Brood II.
These cicadas will hang around for a few weeks calling, mating and creating new cicadas, then dying – their young not appearing for another 17 years as fully-formed teenagers itching to call and mate.
So far, this plague has not made it to my backyard – yet. Plague isn’t too strong a word either. Cicada, according to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, is a Latin word for locust. Unlike the locust, the cicada won’t ruin crops, and it won’t bite you. But it is an ugly insect, and it makes quite a din when you have a couple of thousand going once the soil gets warm enough, as it recently did.
When I got to my birding location the cicadas were flying everywhere. The noise forced me to listen very hard to hear the catbirds, yellow warblers, house wrens and Baltimore orioles, among others. But with the exception of a few blue-gray gnatcatchers, none of the birds appeared to be going after the cicadas. Perhaps they had only just arrived this June day and the birds were too busy singing to protect their breeding territories. As I said, the usual New Jersey cicada feast starts in July when baby birds need to be fed.
Or perhaps the birds were overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.
I don’t know. But I do know I was more than a little annoyed at having to work harder than usual to hear anything over the din. I had been in the mountains of neighboring Sussex County the previous day, and had heard over 50 types of birds, and not one cicada, for which I was now grateful.
Trying to identify 50 bird calls is hard enough when they’re all going at once. Trying to identify 50 bird calls with an extra layer of cicada whirring is torture.
At some point I would hope the birds realize the early insect bonanza they have, and start eating. Birds aren’t stupid, or they wouldn’t have lasted so long.
But for this birder, the end of Brood II can’t come soon enough.