The Song of the Wild-Apr. 2001

The Song of the Wild

We humans have many epigrams about the natural world. We converse about the wind whistling and the seas roaring. Some of the most melodious sounds occur from the birds. In a recent study of bird songs, in which the sounds were slowed down, it was discovered that several of Mozart’s melodies were similar to those of common bird residents. Do we really listen?

From its perch near the top of an old tree growing in my backyard, a Robin poured forth its simple but full throated and melodious song. Wings dropping and feathers slightly fluffed, the bird known and loved as the harbinger of spring sat all but motionless near the tip of a broken branch. From there it could survey its domain while informing the world that the time for mating and raising a family had once again arrived. The male robin sings his, “cherrio, cheerily, cheerup”, song to attract, encourage and entertain his mate. (Male birds are always the songsters while the females have short call notes to indicate their locations to their mates.) Even before a glint of daylight arises, the Robins begin to call short call notes as if saying “what’s up.” At dusk they close the day with a serenade of a little bit of night music.

The Chickadees also participate in the singing and dancing displays taking place in the woods. The dapper males sing their pretty “fee-bee-bee” whistle more and more insistently. Chickadee couples leave their flocks on pleasant days but rejoin the group if the weather takes a nasty turn. They accept the quirks of April with jolly exuberance, flicking the snow off their wings with grace and humor.

Birds make various types of sounds. Some, like the squawks made by Green Herons, may appear unpleasant. Other sounds, like those of the Common Loons, send primal shivers down our spines. Still others, like the murmurings and mutterings of Common Crows, remind us of nothing so much as politicians grumbling in a smoke filled room. Then there are sounds like the songs of the Wood Thrush, so liquid and musical that we seem to be hearing flutes playing within their territory.

For the most part, Ornithologists do not know in detail exactly what birds are communicating through their calls and songs. Calls appear chiefly to be forms of communication: “Hey, where is everybody?” “Where’s junior?” “Let’s get together?” Songs, contrary to popular belief, are not intended primarily to attract females. Rather, they are challenges to other males of the same species to stay away from preempted territory.

On your walks, take pains to listen to all the sounds of nature. Some insects, frogs, toads and mammals make birdlike noises, but you soon will be able to distinguish them. Sharpen your ears with wildlife tapes as you drive or relax. Learning to quietly listen to nature can certainly open your mind. It’s often asked; “Why are Owls considered wise?” The way Owls hunt is by listening first, looking second and reacting to what they have learned. This was proven by tests done by Cornell University. My conclusion would be; if you are a good listener and you think before you act, you are wise.

Happy listening!

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