Friday 15 December 2017

Joys of birdsong morning, noon - and night

Songbirds always seem full of the joys of spring, regardless of the calendar
Songbirds always seem full of the joys of spring, regardless of the calendar

Fiona O'Connell

Songbirds always seem full of the joys of spring, regardless of the calendar. But apparently it's too early to say that sprightly season is in the air, since the meteorological one doesn't start until next month. Though I was brought up to believe that the first of February marked its advent. I remember this well because it is also my mother's birthday.

Her second name is Brigid, in honour of the fact that she shares her celebration with that saint's feast day. Which likely explains where I got the idea about February heralding a new season, as Saint Brigid's Day marks the beginning of the pagan festival of spring.

Appropriately enough for a season that is all about the birds and the bees, Brigid was famed as a fertility goddess in Celtic mythology. Indeed, her feast day was also known as 'Imbolc', which literally means "in the belly" in the old Irish Neolithic language, referring to the pregnancy of ewes.

Those heathens got that one right, given the abundant baa-baa cries of their lambs to be heard even before this month began. Though I find these wonderful little woolly- coated creatures a strange sight to behold in darkest winter.

But perhaps it's not this former city slicker who's out of sync, so much as modern agricultural practices in pursuit of profit. For many farmers use invasive techniques, such as drugs and hormone implants, to manipulate the sheep breeding cycle, so that ewes lamb during winter. This ensures that their awfully cute offspring are big enough to butcher for the lucrative spring lamb market at Easter.

Maybe the seasons have decided to follow suit and abscond from nature's schedule. For the weather has gone awry, with buds on the willows and daffodils blooming early.

Instead of preparing to churn out chicks, some birds seem to prefer churning out a dawn chorus long after dusk and well into the early hours of morning.

Proving that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Because birdsong in the bewitching hours is still beautiful but disturbing.

This out of time (though never out of tune) warbling has been going on for weeks. Apparently it happens a lot in cities, where birds are confused into thinking it is dawn because of the light pollution. Another tragic theory is that birds are unable to communicate during daytime hours because of our relentless bedlam.

But why it is now happening in the relative peace and calm of this country town beats me. The street lights are left on all night, but that has long been the case.

Whatever the reason, it is cause for concern. For it means birds are not getting enough rest and are burning too much precious energy, as all breeds must become both lark and owl.

Best we heed their bizarre birdsong as a warning siren for us to tone things down. Before that something in the air is not just spring but a deafening silence.

Sunday Independent

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