I once heard an amateur field recording ornithologist mimic the song of a few tropical rain forest birds he had identified on various scientific expeditions. He was the late, great Ted Parker, and his passion for birds was such that he had memorized the distinct songs of more than 300 different bird species. Of all the voices of the earth, those of birds, as Ted demonstrated, carry an enormous power to delight us if we listen and hear.
All I have to compare is the ordinary cacophony of early morning wake up calls coming in my open window but I’m happy for it. The wonderful sound binds me to the natural world, and its ritualization of spring is a comfort. I wake, listen and strain to make sense of the chatter. And sometimes I wonder if the finches, jays, flickers and bushtits are raising their voices to be heard over the distant roar of the highway, airplanes and other unnatural sounds.
So does scientist Bernie Krause, according to Clive Thompson of Wired magazine. Krause says biophony — the pristine sound of the world — is being drowned out by anthrophony, or man made noise. It isn’t just that birds and other animals need to shout, it is that the spectrum on which their calls operate is being interfered with and the flow of information among and between species is interrupted. This can mean life and death for these creatures.
To my mind, this situation isn’t just a matter of what we lose. Given our altered ecology, what will arrive to take their place? More red ants?
So great to see Ted Parker featured in your post! Just to give him a bit more credit, my recollection (from travels with Ted in Bolivia) is that he could recognize 3,000 species by song — roughly one-third of all known bird species.
Biophany is a wonderful term, if only we could immerse ourselves in biophony more often!