Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Can we talk?
















There haven't been any more freaky phenomena at the park since my last report, but the woods are damn noisy in normal ways. I keep running into mixed flocks of nuthatches and chickadees feeding together, and those tiny guys make a hell of a racket. I always think of the nuthatch chatter as laughter--rude laughter, like guys who've had a little too much to drink telling dirty jokes. There's a crude quality to their voices. The chickadees, on the other hand, have dry, transparent voices. They make themselves heard, but with the restraint of a librarian on hush patrol.

According to the Cornell page for the nuthatches, it's common for the two species to gang up this way, though I've never noticed it before. It's a little surprising, since they're fond of the same foods, which makes them natural competitors. The Cornell description suggests that they cooperate to look out for predators, but of course they are also helping each other find food. They certainly find plenty to talk about, in any case. I wonder whether they understand each other's vocalizations, or if each bird is just talking to its own species. It seems remarkable to think that they could be, in a sense, bilingual. But then again, domestic animals can often understand human speech in a limited way. All my dogs can comprehend at least a half dozen words or phrases from us, and they can definitely decipher our language with more nuance than we can theirs.

Speaking of dogs and speech, one of my dogs has decided to open a dialogue with the coyotes. Nio is a big dog with a big voice, and an awesome ability to howl. He has a basso profondo bark he employs to warn of intruders, and the coyotes that come yipping around the house have always qualified as intruders of a particularly unwelcome kind until now. The last few times they've visited, usually in the early morning before sunrise, Nio has sung them one of his more beautiful songs--a throaty, thin howl that creates a mellow counterpoint to their hysterical yelping. He actually seems to enjoy their presence. His howl has a note of longing, as if to say, I wish I coud be out there with you.

Coyote sounds

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

7 comments:

Bozo said...

Our experience is that the chickadees pair up with titmouses (titmice?), nuthatches too, of course. The titmouse has a surprisingly loud call for its size (I wouldn't call it a song), but not loud enough to speak to the coyotes.

BitterGrace said...

The titmouse is another noisy guy, you're right. I enjoy them because they seem especially devoted to their mates, always feeding as a pair.

whodat said...

Ha! I used to work for an attorney who called anyone who talked nonsense "that nuthatch." I never realized he was talking about a bird.

Oh, Nio, Nio, you beautiful bad boy, you. Beautiful beautiful Nio (to the tune of Beautiful Brown Eyes)

Mary said...

I wonder what Nio and the coyotes are saying to each other....

BitterGrace said...

You need to come down here and sing to Nio, R. He would fall completely in love with you--and he has a lot of love to give!

I dunno what the coyotes are saying, Mary, but I think Nio is saying, "Want a free meal? Come on over. These people are complete suckers."

chayaruchama said...

Nio can sing for me anyday.
I crave bassos.
[ i still love my youngest, even though he's a tenor- no one's perfect!]

BitterGrace said...

Well, I love a tenor, Chaya. I like 'em high-strung ;-)