Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Sunday, 28 April 2013

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night"


Looking a bit tired at the moment? 
Some of the culprits for what is commonly called 'springtime lethargy' might be our feathered friends: at 4:18 dear robin starts its song, followed at 4:28 by the blackbird, at 4:33 the wren adds its lovely tunes, 4:38 the great tit joins in, then at 4:58 the chiffchaff, and 5:04 the trillions of sparrows we have in Berlin, (and what they chirp I don't call song). 
Our sociocritical poet Bertolt Brecht, "poor B.B.", expressed it in his inimitable unfriendly way: 
"By morning in the grey dawn the firs piss, and their vermins, the birds, start to scream..."  
Old sourpuss - I prefer those noisy concerts to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring!  
Talking of birds: yesterday a biologist might have described the look that husband and I exchanged in the underground with the reaction of male sparrows when they have to listen to the songs of their competitors:  tartish. Our amygdala was tortured by two women (each with a child) who discussed the interesting details of a friend - "and then he said..." "and I said: What???
They sat far apart, so they had to shout very loudly - which didn't disturb them a jota, but the rest of the compartment looked pained (except those lucky ones with headphones on).  
Did you know that sparrows or blackbirds that live in cities trill their songs much louder than their country relatives? Most people think that they thus try to outdo the noise of cities - but Danish biologists found out that city architecture matters too: high houses reflect sounds in a different way, so they calculate the echo of buildings. And weather is important: the more it changes between damp and dry the more complex the sound sequence. They say. In Maryland researchers listened over thirty years to the songs of sparrows (oh my God - what a (wild)life!) and found out that only the melody in the beginning of their songs remained the same over time - the middle part changed drastically, the trill at the end became shorter and shorter by time.  
The sparrow-girls throw their little hearts to the boys with the most variations - 
"O fortune, fortune! all men call thee fickle" (Juliet in Capulet's orchard). 




16 comments:

  1. I go to sleep at night to the frog orchestra in the north pond, outside the bedroom window. The frogs sing until nearly dawn, at which time there is a deafening silence (for a few moments) until the score is taken up by the birds. Like you, I prefer these sounds to that of The Silent Spring, or the roar of city traffic.

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    1. Dear Pondside,
      ha - a deafening sound of silence - I appreciate this! Frogs can be very noisy - I hear them in a pond in the Botanical garden (and always wonder where they hide in winter, as it is a cement basin). To some 'noises' one can get used to (to others - as the airplanes in Hamburg - one only thought that one was used to).

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  2. What a wild life indeed! Thirty years of sparrow songs! x

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    1. Dear Penny,
      yes - some vocations are really calling out loudly :-)

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  3. At this time of year, before the air conditioner stays on through the night, mockingbirds are sharing their love life with the rest of the world. It reminds me of some neighbors we had at the apartment in Tallahassee. I'd much rather be awakened by love-struck birds than amorous humans. The song is more melodic.

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    1. Dear Walk2write,
      haha - I always thought doves sounding like women trying and trying :-) Air conditioner is something we never needed in private homes in Germany, the weather is seldom so hot (though if one has a flat under the roof it might be good).

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  4. To research the songs of the birds would be interesting, though I don't think I could do it for thirty years!! I love hearing the birds every morning. It is nice when the doors are open and we hear the birds from just before dawn to all through the day. This is not counting the Whippoorwill who sings all night and the owls...we have music all the time!

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    1. So you really got the full concert! Once we had a screech owl in Hildesheim - husband always cleaned the stairs at the entrance every morning from their shit - and his words didn't sound like songs :-)

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  5. Note to self -- bring headphones just in case!

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    1. Yes - or foam earplugs (I always have them with me in a train)

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  6. Just reread your last paragraph and sighed.

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    1. VERY interested which part of it made you sigh.

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    2. Okay. Let's see:

      'high houses reflect sounds in a different way, so they calculate the echo of buildings. And weather is important: the more it changes between damp and dry the more complex the sound sequence.'

      The amount of unseen complexity in these interactions between animals and artifice is humbling. There is no other word to describe the response knowing as much stirs.


      'In Maryland researchers listened over thirty years'


      This, too, is humbling. But more impressive than anything else.

      'and found out that only the melody in the beginning of their songs remained the same over time - the middle part changed drastically, the trill at the end became shorter and shorter by time.'

      Well, this incites tremendous curiosity. As though some part of me believes that these changes hold the key to a far, far greater mystery that affects us all.


      'The sparrow-girls throw their little hearts to the boys with the most variations -'

      After reading all of that, and turning it over in my spirit, *this* is the part that made me sigh.

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  7. Dear Suze,
    wow - this is a real letter - thank you so much!
    Concerning nature I always wonder whether a big part of mankind sees only themselves - that would explain how we treat nature - often not with respect, and often not feeling how mysterious these other creatures, animals and plants, are. I believe in karma.
    To give one's whole life to follow an idea/research: fascinating - especially to me, as I bumble through life like a bee: a nip here - delicious! - ah, but the pink over there looks so interesting too - buzz, buzz - well, no more words needed: just look at my blog - buzzing around here too...
    Yes - the trill in the end - would make a good metaphor for life as such - or for our modern time - have to think about it, but am very, very glad that there still is a trill :-)
    And of course, dear Suze, being not only a penpal but also a soulmate of yours, (though we've never met - still waiting for the railroad movie we two will do - fun guaranteed, that is the bright side of buzzing around) - I knew what your 'sigh' was about - I just wanted to hear if I was right. :-)
    Thank you again - you made my day!

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  8. As everything is louder in the city, why not the birds, eh? I very much enjoyed learning the real scoop on that. Lovely post.

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  9. Dear Sue,
    Thank you! And: wonderful: I can see your photo-icon again!
    I read once that in London a blackbird at Victoria station was imitating the ringtone of a cellphone - ha!
    The above times when a bird sings in the morning are "real" too - so Paul McCartney was right with "dead of night".

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