Those Lovely Spring Bird Songs… NOW SHUT UP!

(I actually wrote this a couple of weeks ago just as spring was starting. Then we had a few days of summer heat and humidity so I posted that blog first. Thank goodness we have gone back to cooler temperatures.)

Ah spring. Such an awesome season. The warmth. The green. The sounds. The frogs. The spring peepers. The birds.

I love the sound of red wing blackbirds. They always mean spring is really here. We have a pond near the house where the blackbirds like to hang out.

And lots of spring peepers live there too. The spring peepers start up when it gets warmer. And they just sound amazing.

If you go down to the pond at dusk at the height of their mating activity the sound is deafening. Luckily the pond is far enough away that it’s just wonderful background noise at bedtime. (The video below is an entire hour of spring peepers so it will give you an idea of what it is like trying to fall asleep at my house in the springtime.)

I love being able to sleep with my bedroom window open in spring. Hearing those sounds is so soothing. There are loons on the lakes around us and they spend a lot of time calling out to each other this time of year, perhaps looking for companionship. The sounds are so haunting. And so Canadian. I have to pinch myself that I get to hear them every night, not just on a weekend canoe trip like when we lived in the city. We feel very blessed to live where we do.

We also get owls in the spring. We tend to hear them more in the winter but we have a couple that are quite active right now. Lying in bed is like a symphony of nature sounds.

Then along come the whippoorwills.

Michelle and I had never heard whippoorwills until we came up to meet Jean, the woman we bought the house from. She agreed to meet us after the sale closed and show us the ropes of the off-grid power system. We lay in bed that first night in our new house completely enchanted by them. It’s an amazing call and so unique. Just like their name. You can really hear their name in their call.

And such a strong call too. It is so loud I think they can hear each other in the next province. And they seem to like being near our house. They must climb on the closest trees they can find to the house to do their calls. And they call. And they call. And they call. And it’s loud. And it’s endless. They can just go all night. And unlike the gentle background noise of the peepers, it’s like having a punk band practicing in the neighbor’s garage all night. A bad punk band. With really loud guitars.

And so we have a love affair/hate affair with whippoorwills. I know we’re lucky to have them. I feel blessed. I really do. It’s just that they like to start up about 1 or 2 or 3 am, when you’re in a really deep sleep and it’s like being awakened by an tsunami alarm, only we don’t live near the sea. I have to say, there are some nights I just want to lean out the window and scream at the darn things to shut up!

I will not do that though for several reasons. As Michelle constantly points out to me, “They were here first.” She says that often when I start complaining about our resident beavers and the “construction” projects they complete around our property. We’re just visiting so we need to respect their territory. It’s their field of dreams too.

The other reason that I never yell at the whippoorwills comes from some karma in our house and I am loath to risk tempting fate. Our neighbor Dave Ackerman (who passed away several years ago) had known the various owners of our house over the generations. I’m thinking that 60 or 70 years ago the whippoorwills were an active part of the landscape and apparently having the same effect on the man of the house, Philip Higgley, at the time. (At least I think it was Philip but perhaps Ken and Madeline Snider, who lived in my house many decades ago and read this blog may be able to confirm the identity in the comments below.)

As Dave told the story, the whippoorwills liked to hang out in the lilac bushes just below the bedroom window. (The lilacs are still there outside of the window that was our youngest daughter’s bedroom when she lived at home.) Back then before Jean and Gary did the renovation the windows would probably have been the type that had counterweights to make them easier to raise and lower. But in a wooden home, with the changes in humidity those windows often got stuck.

So one night poor Phillip had had enough of the racket so he opened the window to yell at the whippoorwills. He was one of those farmers who chose not to bother with the encumbrance of pajamas in warmer weather. Upon leaning out the window to politely ask the birds to move on, the window came down, pinning him halfway in and halfway out. Because he was bent over he couldn’t get the leverage to unpry the window. He therefore had to summon his wife who obviously found the image of the naked man pinned in the window pretty darn funny. Unfortunately this was in the days before digital cameras and cell phone cameras so no photographic proof exists to substantiate the incident. Just the story our neighbor Dave passed along to us. It probably happened in black and white.

And with that I take my cue that the volume of the whippoorwill call is my problem and not something to complain to the whippoorwills about. Luckily most nights are still cool enough so that I can just get up and close the front window where most of the sound comes from. And really, after working all day in the garden I can’t see a good nights sleep being that important anyway. I need to just let the birds do their thing.

Some nights I long for the city and the sirens and the drunken teenagers and the cars drag racing down our street. So quiet and relaxing in comparison to the whippoorwills.

7 Responses to “Those Lovely Spring Bird Songs… NOW SHUT UP!”

  • Great post. There are lakes not too far from us and we can hear the peepers and the loons also. And, oh my goodness, do we ever hear the whippoorwills. Why they feel they need to start at 3:00 in the morning I cannot fathom. But I would not trade the “dawn chorus” for an extra hour of sleep for anything. Cheers.

  • Murial:

    Here on Lamma island I wake up every morning with the sound of birdsong. At night we hear an owl and frogs. Lovely! Fortunately we do not have the bull frogs here but when we come back late and are walking up the hill we hear them. Absolutely deafening!

  • Jim:

    Isn’t nature wonderful. I wonder if they complain about us with our loud radios, chain saws, machinery or building tools when we invade THEIR territory seeing we seem to clear them out of OUR territory.
    In Oz we have kookaburras which start laughing about 3 am in the summer time. Not so bad in winter when they seem to stir at about 5.30am. A few weeks ago we had a pair or mopoke owls who called each other most of the night. Generally speaking we only hear the one calling from as close as a tree just 30 metres from our house up to across the valley about a kilometre away. Their voice travels so well.
    Then there is the curlew with its scream like a person being murdered. That sound has brought a few people undone in the middle of the night over the past couple of hundred years. Then it could be the willie wagtails especially the male when she is sitting on the nest.
    I love the frog calls and can sleep with them as long as they keep up the same tune. It is when someone else joins in with a different sound that disturbs ones sleep.
    I am glad that poor Phillip wasn’t mistaken for an intruder and got something else!

  • Brian:

    You are so blessed! As a child I looked forward to the song of the whippoorwill at our farm in Vermont. Alas, the birds have become less and less common in many areas as changes in habitat, human populations, pollution etc. have occurred. While little has changed at the farm itself since those days, the song of the whippoorwill has not been heard there in over 40 years.

  • Madeline and Ken:

    Hi Michelle and Cam: I remember all those sounds between 1925-1945!!

  • David Hribar:

    This was so fun to read and listen to. I plied the sounds loud here in the office and had a number of people coming by asking what those sounds were! I finally got a strong offer on my house and with God’s help this sale will go through and I will be on my way back to update New York and hear these sounds once again as well. ALaska has been great to me but I can hardly wait to get going to live off grid and raise my own food. Thank you.

  • Debra Lacy:

    Ah, yes. Nothing says spring like a red-shafted flicker hammering against the aluminum gutters or chimneys at 5 a.m. on a Sunday! It sounds like a machine gun going off.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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