Sunday, January 13, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?

During the holiday seasons, the sounds that are typically heard are those of ringing bells, large groups of people shouting “Happy New Year!”, the soft soothing tones of “Auld Lang Sine” sung throughout the streets, and sometimes even the sweet whistling of a song bird resting in a tree.

Baron, an African Grey Parrot, often contributes to the cacaphony in the ETC
At the behind the scenes area, or lower site of the World Bird Sanctuary, however, the air is filled with some slightly less than festive tones, in fact ones that can damage human hearing!

When thinking about bird noises, the variety of ranges and sounds that they possess is not often thought about.  The lower site at World Bird Sanctuary is home to many different kinds of birds that are in training, on “vacation”, or even housed for breeding purposes.  All have a different way of getting their points across.

In the ETC (Education Training Center), which is one of the three buildings at the lower site, there is a wide range of birds that are on “vacation” from the summer bird shows WBS presents at zoos, theme parks and aquariums.  Many of these birds have less than comforting noises; especially the South American Birds known as Red-legged Seriemas (which are sometimes referred to as chickens on stilts).
 Sara and Gomez, two of our Seriemas, calling in unison
There are three of  these unusual birds housed in the ETC over the winter.  Although they are very mild mannered birds, they have the loudest, most ear piercing territorial call that I have ever encountered.  Multiply that ear piercing call by three and put it in an enclosed building where the sound can’t escape into the outdoors so it then echoes, and you have a sound that can easily be heard more than 100 yards away if you are standing outside the building.   Imagine that sound outside and not being contained in a building; it can be heard several kilometers away!

These territorial calls are mostly bearable with the earmuffs that we use to dampen the sound. In addition we can mostly muffle the noise by shutting the door to the animal food prep kitchen, where we spend a good portion of our day preparing the birds’ meals.

However, at ETC we have a little “trouble-maker,” who seems to quite enjoy “egging the Seriemas on.”  His name is Nemo, and he’s an African Gray Parrot.  In reality he’s just mimicking the sounds he hears, but sometimes it sure seems he has other intentions on his mind.  The Red-Legged Seriemas use their call as if to say to other Seriemas, “I am louder and higher pitched than you are, therefore I am far superior!”  When any sound is louder or even as loud as them, they feel challenged and are “set off” again.
 Nemo--our little troublemaker
 Nemo can accurately mimic the Seriemas, and he sets them off all the time.  He can also mimic most of the birds in the ETC, many of its current and previous staff members, as well as various bells, whistles and beeps. Amongst these sounds are those of a phone ringing, followed by an answering machine, a truck’s reverse beep, a water droplet, a laser being fired (pew, pew), an evil laugh (mwah ha ha), and many different tunes that he can whistle and often times will mix and match.
 Staff members have also been known to contribute to the noise level in the ETC building
Along with the singing and whistling from the parrot room, there can also be singing heard coming from the animal food prep kitchen of the lower site.  This singing is a little different from the rest of the sounds in the ETC.  It is done by humans instead of all the birds.  Throughout the day it is quite enjoyable to sing along to the classic rock station, or some country tunes, or even the cheery holiday music (before it is over-played). So, even though many of the noises of the World Bird Sanctuary are highly unlikely to be heard out in the streets of St. Louis, we still like to add some normal sounds to the mixture.

So, all in all, when entering the ETC building at WBS, visitors should be prepared to be greeted with a smorgasbord of unusual sounds. 

Submitted by Teresa Aldrich, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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