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Posts Tagged ‘birdcall’

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Photo: BGR

My son-in-law is no fan of grey squirrels. The squirrels in Sweden are apparently more polite. Too many times when the children were small and sleeping outside for some fresh air, an aggressive grey squirrel would crash around on the grape arbor above and shower leaves and twigs onto the stroller, ending the nap.

More recently, great pains have been taken to prevent Mr. Squirrel from getting into the bird feeder. And it’s been a revelation how many companies, observing a huge market demand, are trying to produce squirrel-proof bird stations.

But squirrels are interesting if you’re in the right frame of mind. Consider how clever they are in absorbing warnings from birds when there’s danger.

Mike Wehner writes at BGR, “A new study highlights just how important it can be for certain animals to glean information from the communication of entirely different species. The research, published in PLOS One, reveals that squirrels can sense danger simply by spying on some unwitting feathered friends.

“Squirrels, it turns out, are very good at listening to bird chatter, and have a knack for translating those chirps and tweets (or lack thereof) to sense when predators are nearby.

“For the study, researchers hunted down grey squirrels and tested their reactions to certain bird noises. Using the threatening call of a hawk to strike fear in the furry mammals, the scientists recorded the changes in their behavior when the cheerful calls of songbirds were played at various intervals. …

“The researchers write, ‘Squirrels responded to the hawk call playbacks by significantly increasing the proportion of time they spent engaged in vigilance behaviors and the number of times they looked up during otherwise non-vigilance behaviors, indicating that they perceived elevated predation threat prior to the playbacks of chatter or ambient noise.’

“The squirrels, sensing immediate danger from above, were careful in their movements and did their best to avoid making themselves an easy meal. When silence followed the recorded hawk calls, the squirrels remained in that state, but when friendly bird chatter returned the squirrels took it as a sign that the skies were clear of threats.

“ ‘We knew that squirrels eavesdropped on the alarm calls of some bird species, but we were excited to find that they also eavesdrop on non-alarm sounds that indicate the birds feel relatively safe,’ the scientists say. ‘Perhaps in some circumstances, cues of safety could be as important as cues of danger.’ ”

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A charming feature on the radio show Studio 360 this spring was about a young beat boxer who turns birdcalls into music. (Wikipedia says beatboxing is “is a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.”)

According to Studio 360, “Ben Mirin is a Boston area birdwatcher turned New York City beat boxer who decided to combine his two passions. ‘As a mimic, I was able to imitate certain bird calls,’ Mirin explains, ‘the American Bittern, the Common Eider.’ Mirin mines birdcalls and layers them with his own beats to construct compositions that fall somewhere between a musical mashup and an ornithologist’s field recordings.

“When he performed at the American Beatbox Festival last year, Mirin improvised a set where he combined spoken word, beatboxing, and bird calls to take the audience on a forest bird tour. ‘It was totally off the cuff,’ Mirin remembers, ‘and people went nuts.’

“Mirin has traveled the world as a field ornithologist. Combining beatboxing and birdcalls isn’t just about new music: ‘My craft is about using beatbox to build a bridge to the natural world.” ”

Listen to the music Mirin makes using real birdcalls, here.

Photo: Nick Mirin
Ben Mirin photographing birds in New Zealand’s Fiordland

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