Tag Archives: bird calls

Lessons From The Whippoorwill

Photo by Judd Patterson.

We had a gift waiting for us six months after we built our home. I’m so glad I discovered it serendipitously.  To have known about the magnetic call of our back yard whippoorwill before the bird revealed itself would have been less magical and made the first time we heard the sound expected.  The way our whippoorwill revealed itself, however, was to become the difference in an evening chorus of tree frogs and lingering day songs from the birds who were almost done for the evening.

When the human brains register a “difference,” the first notion is to test the new feedback out.  “Did you hear that?” I asked Mick as we worked in the last hint of light, raking up twigs in our back yard?

“What? No, I didn’t hear anything,” he replied.

I heard it again, ever so slightly more pronounced.  “THAT,” I said.  “That sound.  It’s a bird call I’ve not heard before.”

When rakes stop scratching and attention is completely directed toward the collection of incoming sounds, then the world changes.  Here is exactly the sound we heard together after pausing that evening:

And, we are blessed to hear it every Spring around this time.  All told, I’ve enjoyed eight years on our back porch listening to the call of the whippoorwill end the day.  He comes into auditory range when it reaches the bottom of our hill around the creek.  The beautiful sound grows more pronounced as the bird gradually moves along the treeline up the hill, passes across our back yard, and then continues on its path until it is out of range for our ears as it crests the top of the hill.

The process, in some ways, is like a one-hour long doppler effect.  Barely there, and heard at different wavelengths than when in immediate proximity, then changing again as it goes away.  The sound is beautiful, but the bird is by and large elusive.  It stops singing if you approach the area where it rests.  After all, WE are not the mate it is looking for.

But when she responds, and they mate somewhere outside the range of our eyes or ears, the result is one or two eggs that will eventually hatch into more birds with hauntingly beautiful voices.  The sound is so powerful that some Native American lore states that when people die, the whippoorwill catches the soul as it leaves their body.  Continue reading Lessons From The Whippoorwill