Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Sad Silence

Is it because I’m a professionally trained musician? Or, in particular because I’m a singer, and thus accustomed to using my body for receiving and sending sound impulses? Or because I’m a birder who often depends solely on hearing to find and identify birds? Or is it just that I have particularly sensitive hearing?

It doesn’t really matter why I am so aware of my acoustical environment. The point is, I am.

I run my business from my home office, where throughout the day I am aware of a variety of sounds which have become familiar to me, such as the furnace, water heater, letter carrier’s truck, garage door opening when D comes home, and even the sound of our big cat Ron jumping off the kitchen chair when he wakes up and finds that I’ve finished breakfast and moved to my office.

Most of all, I’m aware of the sounds of the birds outside, as they move around the yard, come and go at the feeders, and fly overhead. Being very near-sighted, I developed excellent aural birding skills at a very young age, and I know the songs and calls of most of the birds I’m likely to see in our area. In fact, when I’m out and about, I locate and identify many songbirds by ear alone. (Most birders develop this skill even if they have good eyesight, but those of us who see poorly really rely on this ability.)

I can identify all our local birds by their calls and songs, and simply by listening carefully from day to day and throughout the year, I can follow their courtships and nesting activities in my yard and neighborhood. I know when their chicks fledge, when they bring their young to the feeders, and for the larger birds, I can sometimes listen in on their flying lessons.

The most prominent “flight school” in our neighborhood is conducted by the Red-tailed Hawks that have nested for years in some big evergreen trees on the next street, a quiet cul-de-sac that curves around behind our property. You can read about their noisy flying lessons here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/07/flight-school.html

This past July, I noticed with concern that the Red-tails’ flight school was not conducted at all – it seemed that they had failed to raise any young. The sky was strangely silent during the hot days of July, when the young Red-tails typically practice their flying lessons over our yard, calling incessantly. Incessantly. I saw the pair of adults every day, and I had watched their courtship flights in late winter, and even saw them mating in one of the big trees in our yard and carrying nesting materials to their tree. I knew they were still together, still active, still a couple, and committed to the nest. So why were there no young hawks this year?

As I wrote about yesterday, our neighbors seem bent on removing most of the large trees in our corner of town. I should have added to that post an important detail: among the mature, healthy trees that have been felled and pulverized in the past year were the large spruce trees where the Red-tails had nested. Those particular trees were taken down in the early spring. It’s likely that the Red-tails’ nest, with the young in it, was destroyed with the trees.

Of course, it’s a federal crime to molest, harass, or destroy almost all wild birds (including hawks) and their nests. But most people never see birds, never consider them, and never stop to think who might be living in a tree as the screaming chain saw bites into it. I wonder if “tree specialists” ever notice, or care about, the dead and dying birds and animals that come down with the trees. Individual acts affect the well-being of our world.

During January and early February, Red-tailed Hawks renew their bonds and begin to touch up their nests (which they maintain from year to year), or build new ones if needed, such as if theirs has been destroyed by a tree-felling homeowner. I’ve already seen “my” pair in their courtship flights in the past week, soaring in ever-higher circles over the yard. They will soon choose a new nest site, and start to construct a large, elaborate nest, breaking dead branches and twigs from other trees and carrying them to the nest site. I hope they choose a tree in a safe place. I hope I’ll once again hear that raucous flight school in July.

Here's a story about the courtship dance of Red-tailed Hawks which I witnessed recently:

Here's a story about a remarkable tree


and its demise


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