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.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.