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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bird noising

In these scientific times we're not supposed to anthropomorphize. So what a bird does with its vocal apparatus may not be called singing. It is marking territory, repelling a rival or attracting a mate, announcing a cache of bugs, warning of danger. It is not joyous or sad or carefree or disconsolate (don't spell it "mourning" dove). Even "calling" may imply too much self-aware communication. "Sounding" and "noising" are acceptable.

The idea works for gulls, who squawk as a matter of course, no reason needed. Crows too, who are an examplar of noise in fact, especially at dawn when their incessant caws and screeches and nyucks in the big bare spruce near the open window cannot be understood to have any malice or disturbing intent (or we would go crazy).

It gets slightly trickier with the dawn and dusk scatting of the robin, which sounds suspiciously like new-wave jazz in a club. The high-pitched motherly squeak of the osprey is not echo-location (or is it?). The woodpecker can't help it if he (I mean it) sounds crazy.

Even worse are the little armadas of ducks, swimming and diving, blended families of ducklings and parents whose burblings and murmurings I am desperately trying not to describe as "contented." And what do you say about the hummingbird, which is without sound, except the whirring of wings, as if a precious jewel that you'd give to a loved one could fly?

But at last the idea falls apart. There is the goldfinch, sitting at the close of day at the very top of a 50-foot balsam fir, in the last rays of the sun, pouring out his heart, baring her soul, singing (damn it!) for the glory of our lives.

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