Urban vs City Sounds
by: Mike Lushington
It is 4:30 AM and the robins are singing.
For the past week or so, they have treated me to an early morning
concert the likes of which I have rarely heard before. One large male in
particular, surely the star of the neighbourhood, perches just outside our
bedroom window to give us full benefit of his virtuosity for an hour or so
before getting on with the other things that occupy his day.
It has been pleasantly warm for the past several weeks and we have
taken to leaving windows and doors open to allow the breezes to circulate
to dispel the accumulated heat of the preceding day. It may be that that
is why I am more conscious of the robin chorus this summer than I remember
being in other years. Or it may simply be that we have more and better
singers around the house this summer than in other years.
One morning, though, it must have been a week or more ago, the robin
chorus was replaced by one orchestrated by a family of ravens. For nearly
two hours, I lay there in the very early morning light, listening to their
raucous groaning, squawking, and moaning before they, too, moved on with
the other affairs of their day. Surely, ravens make a much greater fuss
than do robins, but the end result in each case is that I have to find
some time elsewhere in the day to make up for the sleep that I lose while
they make their morning music.
I was reading an item in the weekend newspapers where a lady from Saint
John was lamenting that her morning sleep was disturbed by a family of
crows. She was wondering if anyone had any idea on how to get rid of them
and, being a city person, I suspect that she was really lobbying for the
government to pass a law banning birds from singing outside her window
until a more respectable time of day - say, 9:00 - or after she has had
her morning coffee. I was tempted to respond to her to remind her of two
things. One of them is that every time I wake up in the city in the early
morning, it is to the sounds of police or ambulance sirens, or the muted
thunder of transport trucks on nearby highways. The other is that these
sounds of the city are year round, unlike our bird chorus, which will only
last for a brief while more before being replaced by the cold whisper of
fall breezes and the onslaught of another winter.
On the whole, I much prefer the bird chorus, even that of my ravens or
Her complaint reminded me again of just how far most of us have removed
ourselves from the natural world around us. We (they, because I can't)
sleep comfortably through sirens, traffic sounds, alarms, and all the
turmoil of urban life, but a few birds singing outside our window disturb
and upset us. It is as though we have really decided that we must control
everything. A noise made by human activity is acceptable, no matter how
loud or aggressive, but one made by another creature, without our
permission, as it were, is unacceptable.
For myself, I invite all the crows, ravens, robins, vireos, starlings
(yes, even the starlings, who do sing most enchantingly in early spring)
and other birds to sing when they want to outside our window. I have the
welcome mat out for the racoons and foxes to have their family squabbles
in my backyard, even at 2:00 AM, if that suits them. I would ask the
skunks, though, to practice a tad more self-control over their favourite
form of self-expression, especially in the direct vicinity of our open
They are all far more welcome than is the scream of another dirt bike,
the thump of an overloaded transport truck or the nerve jangling wail of a
siren in the night.