In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, Anne Dillard reminds us to be observant. “At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening.”
The ideal time for doing so has arrived. With the cacophony of spring sounds, it is hard to miss the natural concert happening all around us.
The sounds of spring are filling the days and nights. Awake to the avian arias and listen to them all day long. Birds are making themselves known through their vocalizations, which fall into two distinct categories — songs and calls.
Bird songs are generally associated with mating and reproduction. The breeding season has begun, and bird song is noticeably increasing from both year-round and seasonal residents. Songs are necessary to attract mates, ward off rivals, establish territories, and bond with partners and/or young. There is a structure and rhythm to songs, and often the pattern of sounds is repeated. Red-winged blackbirds, robins, song sparrows and many others have begun to sing.
Bird calls, on the other hand, are short notes or phrases that convey basic survival concepts. These include communicating the location of food, the presence of danger and the need to stay together, follow or locate each other.
The organ that allows birds to be heard is the syrinx. The syrinx has membranes that produce sound when air from the bird’s lungs passes over them. Additional muscles allow for the different characteristics of the sounds produced.
Other animals that use vibrations to make noise and will soon add to the spring symphony are insects. Bees, mosquitos, flies, beetles and wasps can also buzz and hum their way into our lives.
Insects produce sounds using their wings. Different pitches can be created by different wing speeds. Butterflies produce very little sound, as their wings beat very slowly, only six times per second. Compare that to the bees, whose medium wing speeds of 230 times per second make an audible buzz. With faster wing beaters, like the mosquitoes (400 times per second), you have the incredibly irritating and high-pitched whining sound that drives us all crazy.
Silent nights are also a thing of the past, as our beloved pinkletinks are making a loud entrance, too. Males are calling for their mates, often in threes, creating a sonata of sound that makes even the most dedicated winter-lover smile. Pinkletinks use vocal sacs to produce their notable noise. These sacs are filled with air and when the air is released, their quintessential peeps are heard.
So many sounds signal spring, so take the time to listen. Pianist Alfred Brendel astutely said, “The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.” And ancient biographer Diogenes Laertius more sharply observed, “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.”
Great advice for enjoying the long-awaited spring.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.