By Bubba and Elbert
I was feeling a little old and getting bored with birdwatching when Bubba decided to teach me a new trick. How bird songs can be used to identify the bird without actually seeing it.

He introduced me to a tape from the Tropical Education Center, titled, "The Sounds of Belizean Birds" and this week I've become aware of an intriguing new aspect of birdwatching . . . Bird listening. I now have a long list of birds that I recognize by song alone. However bird identification by sound has turned out to be just a small part of my discovery. Bubba said, "Humans tend to notice birds because birds use the same sense organs as they do. The most important one is probably color vision, but hearing must lie a close second. They hear and of course communicate over a similar range of wavelengths."

I've started spending time in early dawn on my veranda practicing identifying birds by just listening to the surrounding habitat. In the past I thought morning bird sounds were just a wake up call but Bubba has pointed out some very interesting features of what I thought I was hearing. He said, "Birdsongs are an elaborate series of messages in the 'language' of birds. Some complex songs may include as many as 80 notes per second. Such sounds seem like a single continuous note to the human ear and can only be seen not to be, by examination of a sound spectrograph recording the song. Not surprisingly, if the bird can give such calls it can also receive them. The speed of the auditory response of birds may be on the order of ten times as fast as that of a human.

"The Avian Kingdom has developed many ways of transmitting messages but song is a particularly useful form. Sound travels well in most habitats in which birds live and is clearly the most articulate.'

"In habitats such as a rainforest where foliage would prevent being seen from short distances, the inherent acoustics of the canopy allow long distance communication."

With a little skepticism in my voice I asked Bubba what he thought the birds were saying to one another. He convinced me by explaining that "language is just a group of simple messages and even though he didn't understand their languages he understood the basic needs for language.He assumed topics were one of its three main functions. They were announcing territory claims or discussing border disputes, making endeavors to attract a mate, and identifying other members of their communal family.

I learned a lot, and recently discovered that a noise in the night I thought was a croaking frog turned out to be a small owl advertising for a mate.

"Birdlistening"'s a whole new world.

Birds of Ambergris Caye

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