Friday, April 26, 2013

The Hawk Chronicles cont.

(There is a pair of Broad-Winged Hawks nesting about 75 feet up and 100 feet away from our house in an oak tree on our property.)

Mars and I hear the hawks more often than we see them.   That’s not unusual in our yard, especially this time of the year.   Even though light travels faster, the sounds of spring touch our ears long before the birds that are responsible for them flash before our eyes.  Over the years we’ve grown accustomed to the ground-bound early morning “coo” of the sun-seeking Mourning Doves; the daylong stereophonic “caws” of the attention-seeking crows as they migrate through the area; the sex-seeking hook-up pleas of the male Cardinal – high up and hyper – seeking the lowdown from some down-low female of the species; the cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up” from flocks of Robins suddenly realizing that they forgot to go south for the winter; and the perpetual, overlapping chirping of finches and sparrows.  And to confuse matters more, a choir of mockingbirds arrives on the scene annually.
How do these tiny animals put forth such bounteous ballads?  We heard the answer to this enigma on WNPR’s “Bird Note” early the other morning.  (We tune in public radio to drown out the outdoor sunrise chatter.)  They were talking specifically about the Carolina Wren – but it applies to all the avian songsters.
”The answer lies in the songbird’s vocal anatomy. Unlike the human voice, which comes from the larynx way up at the top of the windpipe, a bird’s song comes from deep within its body. Birds produce song in a structure called the syrinx, located at the bottom of the windpipe where the bronchial tubes diverge to the lungs. The syrinx is surrounded by an air sac, and the combination works like a resonating chamber to maintain or amplify sound.

“Evolution has given birds a far more elaborate sound mechanism than it’s given humans. Where we wound up with a flute, songbirds got bagpipes."
The first time we heard the hawks however we both thought it was one of the squirrels.  The thin, high whistled "kee-eee." sounded more like the frightened squeal of a quivering tree-rat caught in the soaring raptor’s shadow, than the warning cry of their taloned predator.  I myself expected a deep, bass sound – similar to the rumbling roar of an amped up eighty-pound black Labrador Retriever  – and certainly not something more reminiscent of the incessant yips of a petulant Chihuahua.
The next time ever I heard their voice was when I saw the pair exchanging egg-warming duties at their nest.  Maybe it was a different call.  Perhaps it was the physical presence and threatening look on its face– but whatever the reason, this time the hawk-talk sounded much more Lab-like.
 Soon enough the early morning complaints of starved hatchlings awakening from their involuntary overnight fast – along with the angry responses of the sleep deprived parents – will shatter our pre-dawn dosing.
We’ll immediately turn on our radio and hope “Bird Note” is there to explain what it is that is happening in our front yard hawk nest.  I’ve already seen the fear-inducing visage that goes with an irately uttered “kee-eee”.  So I am perfectly willing to let someone else peer into the raptor roost, and describe the action to me.
Hear the call of Broad-Winged Hawks at

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