If the time lapse between the initial assignment and its completion didn’t give it away, I confess I wasn’t excited by this prompt. I imagine that my garden sounds much like other suburban gardens: calls of various birds, squeaks of squirrels, perhaps a dull roar of distant traffic or airplanes passing somewhere overhead. Saturday morning sounds of mowers. The mow-blow-and-go guys in the Carrot Lady‘s neighborhood.
It is generally very quiet in my neighborhood. I’m probably two miles from a major interstate highway, but I seldom hear its traffic. In fact, I don’t often hear the traffic sounds from the closest major street. But every morning and every evening, my garden becomes noisy with the sounds of birds. And, I realized, I have no idea who’s talking.
This being the Internet age and all that, I assumed that I could find some reliable source to identify the bird sounds I hear. I turned to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s terrific site, All About Birds.org. Their site contains information on 587 species of birds.
I hope it contains the one I hear in my memory.
Name That Bird.
Like the sense of smell, the sensation of hearing a familiar sound can recall deeply connected memories and feelings. There are two bird songs that to me are iconic of my time outdoors. The first is that of the bobwhite quail (Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus), which I heard often on visits to my grandparents’ farm. I distinctly remember my grandfather telling me to listen to its’ call: “bob-WHITE….bob-WHITE”.
The other sound is one that I instantly associate with summer, probably because I heard it growing up when I played outside in the evenings. When I asked my parents what kind of bird made that noise, they said they thought it was some kind of owl. It is a haunting sound, instantly recognizable, and unlike any other bird I have ever heard.
Getting dragged more deeply into the website (it is getting very late), I try all the owl samples. Even ones not indigenous to my area. None of them sound anything like what I hear in my memory.
I want only to find out this owl song. If I find that, I can go to sleep.
[My cat is hunting in the living room, stalking prey she hears but cannot find. My son staggers groggily out of his bedroom, asking if he can shut his window (it is already) because Mom, the birds are SO LOUD. I turn down the sound on the computer.]
Sample after sample, nothing matches my memory. I begin to doubt that it was in fact an owl. This irritates me. I like the idea of its being an owl. I like owls.
I browse in the other bird families. It’s not a stork. It’s not in the sandpiper group. Could it be in the pigeons and doves group? I hope not. Pigeons, as my husband says, are nothing better than flying rats. I know what city pigeons sound like and my sound doesn’t sound like that. I skim the list: city pigeons (no)…White-winged dove (Is the Stevie Nicks song supposed to sound like that?). Not it. Mourning dove? I have often heard of those, in stories and general lore. What does a mourning dove sound like?
It sounds like my owl.
This sound resonates in my heart. I play it again, and then once more. I’m so relieved to know the identity of the bird who makes my beloved sound that I forgive it for being a cousin to a flying rat. I go to bed happy, the mystery solved.