Monday, May 1, 2023

Still Life with Robin: Would somebody turn down the volume on those birds!

Blackbird vocalizing 
Image by Wikimedia Creative Commons
​by Peggy Robin

I've always been a light sleeper, waking up to any sort of noise. But there's a new one this year and I still haven't figured out how to deal with it. It's bird song....and it's loud! It's been starting around 5:00 or 5:30 every morning for the past few days. It's not an unpleasant noise -- it's actually fairly melodic--- not squawking, cawing, or screeching -- but lots of chirping and tweet-tweet-tweeting. It's the decibel level that gets to me. I can't imagine how many birds, or dozens of birds, it might take to produce sound at that volume.

I have absolutely no idea what type of birds I'm hearing. Or where they might be. Or how long they'll keep this up. Given that this is the first year I've heard them, I guess I'll just have to wait to find out more. I've walked around the yard in daylight, looking up at the trees to see if I can spot any big, new nests. There's a large, old silver maple and a medium-sized pear tree in my front yard, and I can't see any evidence of a nesting colony having taken up residence in any of the branches. But then, I don't really know if I should be looking for nests. Maybe the birds are just getting together for an early morning sing-off and happen to have converged on a spot near my house....?

Anyway, what good would it do me if I found out why they're being so loud? There's nothing I could --or would-- do about it, if I discovered the cause. Who am I to tell a bunch of birds where and how loud they can sing? The trees are their habitat, while mine is inside a house. It's on me to deal with the noise that penetrates my walls -- I get that. I just haven't quite figured out a strategy. Ear plugs? It's part of the light-sleeper syndrome that I find it impossible to fall asleep with foreign things stuck in my ears. I lie awake, just itching to pull them out, until I finally do. White noise machine? Simply another type of noise, in some ways worse that the bird racket. I've tried it on many settings from "gentle rain" to "pounding surf." The rain setting makes me feel like my roof's sprung a leak, while the surf setting gets me tense, as I'm waiting for the next wave to crash -- the big one that could wash me out to sea. Of course, at the time of night when I'm ready to sleep, all is quiet; it will be many hours before the bird noise begins. So I have little incentive to tolerate the feel of the ear plugs or the sound of the white noise machine as I'm trying to fall asleep. 

I suspect, by the time I come up with some sort of solution, the problem will resolve itself. It could be just a temporary, seasonal thing, and the birds will move on when they're ready. Maybe that's something they're discussing with each other in their early morning conferences. Where's the next stop on our song-tour? Who'll be next the next audience for our pre-dawn serenade?

While I don't foresee how this little story will end, it does remind me of an incident that took place sometime in the early 1980s, when I had a house on Macomb St, not far from my present house on Ashley Terrace. My cousin Rob was in DC for a few days, here from New York. I put him up in a cozy little attic room with a dormer window, just at eye level with the branches of a grand old pin oak. When you looked out that window and saw the great branches, all leafed out in green, you could imagine that you were in a treehouse in the middle of the forest. You could easily forget you how close you were to downtown, just a few stops away by Metro, from the station two blocks to the north.

After Rob had spent the first night up there, he came down for breakfast, and I asked him how he'd slept.

"Terrible!" he replied, and I was shocked. The bed had a good mattress, excellent bedding, fluffy pillows -- and the temperature just right.

"What was the matter?" I asked anxiously.

"Those birds!" he said. "Right outside the window -- so noisy! How does anyone sleep through it?"

"You thought the birds were too loud?" I said skeptically. "But you live in Manhattan! There are sirens all night long. Car alarms. And the bars on your block close down at 3 am. All much louder than a few birds in the trees."

His reply? "It all depends on what you're used to. I'm used to those noises, so I just tune them out. I'm not used to bird noise, so I couldn't get back to sleep."

It's been more than 40 years since we had this conversation -- and my wise cousin is no longer with us -- but I'm betting he's right and in time I will learn to tune out the avian chorus....or perhaps they will move on, just as I master the skill. Either way will be OK.


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays -- most of the time -- but occasionally it does get pushed back a few days, especially if I've had an interruption in my normal routine (including much-needed sleep) and so need to nap during the day!

1 comment:

  1. Merlin - the bird ID App by Cornell will tell you the name of your bird