Posted by: Ross Gardner | December 5, 2020

The sounds that birds make

I was in a wood yesterday evening, in the cold, grainy light of dusk. I heard the noise of a bird among the tree tops above me that I didn’t quite recognise. This is fairly unusual as I have come to know well the bird songs and calls one can normally expect to hear in the woods of the local area.

The bird in question turned out to be a green woodpecker, a very familiar bird around these parts. The noise though, was not the very distinctive laughing call of a ‘yaffling’ woodpecker. The wood was calm, with a stillness that softly, but firmly rebuffed the distant roar of Friday rush-hour traffic. It was a stillness that yielded the subtler sounds of the wood. It was the woodpecker’s wings that I had heard above me – whirring and then silent, whirring and then silent, reflecting the bird’s typically undulating flight, each burst of wing-beating accompanying with the quiet whistle of air over feathers. I was hard pushed to remember if I had ever consciously notice the beating of a green woodpecker’s wings before. The fact that the most familiar of places can still offer me fresh experiences made me smile.

Green Woopecker (Picus viridis)

Some birds are nevertheless, far more readily associated with noise of their passing. Aside from clatter of wings clapping through the branches, most, I would expect, be familiar with wheezing flight of the woodpigeon. What I didn’t notice however, until fairly recently, is how the very closely related stock dove makes a similar but subtly different sound, with a wheezing slightly more high-pitched and less obtrusive. This talk of flight sounds makes me remember well the bellbird of New Zealand whose briskly beating wings fairly warbled as they passed.

Later on in the wood half a dozen long-tailed tit flew just above me and fluttered like falling leaves onto the bare branches of tree in front of me. Even the sound of their tiny wings registered to my senses.

The Bellbird (Anthornis melanura) – endemic to New Zealand.

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