What do the birds know?

by ollie on April 27, 2012

An early morning bird language session at Steward Wood.

This is my favourite time of year for so many reasons. The return of the sun brings warmer weather and more daylight hours (which gives me lots more time to catch up with those gardening and forestry tasks). The plants are beginning to spring up out of the earth, many of which are edible and the buds are beginning to swell on the trees that will soon come out into leaf, changing the whole appearance of the woodlands around us, as the bare trees become a sea of green. Generally, it is an easier time to be outdoors, connecting to the natural world. (Although it has rained almost non-stop today, much needed, but it makes me feel more inclined to sit and read a book by the fire than be outdoors processing this winters firewood!)

However, even with all these and many other exciting events occurring in the natural world, for me, a large part of my attention and excitement is drawn to the world of the birds. It is the Spring and Summer, so rich with bird activity and vocalisations that offers us a fantastic opportunity to begin to understand the language of the birds. The breeding season begins and the song of many birds becomes more regular as territories are established and maintained. This is followed by nest building and eventually numbers of juveniles adding to the bird population. The warmer weather encourages the migratory birds to return to our shores in search of a good place to breed, until they go back to their winter homes, bringing us a whole host of extra bird species to enjoy. With all this activity the dawn chorus becomes one of the most breathtaking and possibly overlooked events of the season. All around us, whether in city or countryside, the birds are busy, and if we choose to pay attention and engage our senses to the best of our ability we can begin to interpret the stories hidden within and experience and explore the world around us in a new and captivating way.

A good example of this is something that happened to me the other evening. Some time after 7pm, I was down in the glade moving some firewood and deciding to sit and have a rest began to tune in to the bird language surrounding me. There was a lot of song from various species and also other forms of vocalisation that indicated to me that the birds were in a baseline state. This is a sign that the birds are relaxed enough to carry out maintenance behaviours, for instance: singing, feeding, preening or bathing, amongst others. This can be an indication that there are no predators or other threats to the birds in the area at that time. So I made a mental note of this and continued to rest. It was not long before I noticed a definite change. This peaceful baseline feeling turned to alarm. This is when the baseline is disturbed by the presence of a predator  or threat, and in this instance was being displayed by a series of very intense, aggitated calls from a Wren and also a couple of Blackbirds. It was more than enough to grab my attention and I looked towards the area of disturbance. Soon there were other species of bird alarming too and it was obvious that something had caused a change to the relaxed and peaceful baseline that I had been listening to previously. I immediately thought: bird of prey, and continued to observe the area of disturbance. Seconds later a Tawny Owl flew from a low perch amongst the area of alarm and flew off to the west, a string of alarm following the route it took.

A truly amazing experience. Yet until I came across the concept of reading bird language, I had no idea that reading the patterns of nature in this way was possible. It was as if bird sounds were just some kind of background noise, with no meaning and if I’m I would not really be paying much attention to these sounds anyway. One of the most interesting things about learning bird language, is that once we become aware of the panic and agitation that is caused amongst the birds as the baseline is disturbed, we can then begin to realise that the way we move and act around wildlife can cause a similar reaction. This is a sad reflection of our modern lifestyles: Our disconnection from the natural world, with our tendency to be in a rush, so preoccupied with our thoughts that we are not even aware of our surroundings and the effect we can have on them. It is good to remember that the woods, fields, parks, gardens, – all areas of wildlife, are as much the home of the creatures that live there as ours.

So I encourage you to pay attention to the bird language around you and see where it leads you. It takes a certain amount of time, observation and awareness to be able to read bird language in this way, but I have never found anything that feels so rewarding and is truly worth the effort. So why not start to listen out to the different sounds the birds are making in your back garden, park, or woodland. What do the sounds you are hearing feel like, and are there other patterns and behaviours that may give clues to some of the other goings on or creatures that live or pass through the area? Better yet, can you begin to change the way you move and act to reduce the disturbance to the baseline around you?

I also strongly encourage you to share your bird language stories here on this website. My friends and I regularly share our stories and experiences of the natural world, and they serve us well. Everyone, story teller and those listening all learn from hearing the tale, and they also act as a way to inspire each other to get back out into nature, gather more information, and bring back more pieces of the puzzle. So feel free to add them to the comments box. I look forward to hearing them.

Enjoy :)




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