Some time ago on my daily walk, 2.5 miles of brisk walking for exercise, I noticed a distinctive bird call soon after I’d crested the most challenging part of the walk; I think it was a mourning dove: low-note…high note…low…low…low. It sounded bellowy like it could be an owl hooting, but I recognized it as a mourning dove—those birds that are shaped like a slim pigeon, longer wing feathers and oh-so-very-smooth taupe-colored bodies, the ones that seem to squeak when they take flight. Once the dove woke me out of my “zone” of out-of-breath walking, I realized that she was cooing in a rhythm; she sent out her song five or six times and pausing before repeating the song. I couldn’t see her, but she was nearby. I began to listen intently, to make a distinct effort of listening, an intentional concentration to gather the sounds around me.
Soon I discovered about a dozen other birds’ songs overlapping, some clear from anear, some faint from afar. Two birds with the same song seemed to call to each other from different parts of the neighborhood, first to the left, then to the right, then back to the left, etc; I’m convinced they were having a long-distance conversation. I heard the distinctive scree of a hawk… I saw him in the distance floating over the trees, scree…scree. I spied a blue jay on a wire, calling out a staccato call. Surprisingly I thought I heard an actual owl’s solitary hoot. Then I saw a cardinal light on a branch and sing a three-part song: part whistle, part chirp, part melody.
I found it hard to stay attentive to the birdsong: my attention shifted unconsciously to my own physical effort, or to something on the road, or to a loud human sound—the din of construction or a car or truck. I kept adjusting to pick out the birdsong again that was a background song to everything else…not each song, but the blended constancy of birdsong in the air. It was not dominant, it was not obvious, it was quite soft and abundant!
When I walk very early or very late, I notice that the hum of insects rises, too, rises out of the fields. The chirp of crickets and chiggers and, in late summer, the shrill of cicadas. Their crepuscular sound is more of a drone than a song, but it creates a bassline to the birdsong, and that’s clearly how I hear it now, a blend of all the birds in birdsong.
As I neared the end of my walk, a crow landed on the roadside ahead, hopped a bit, and then let out its distinctive caw-caw-caw! Those crazy blackbirds still seem to pursue me and this particular one announced himself. I was surprised how much birdsong is all around the neighborhood all day. I was surprised, too, at how many songs I recognized. I wonder if you listen to the world around you—not the cars, trucks, construction noise, and the trash men and other people, but the regular sounds from nature. If not, try it and be surprised.