In your home base, ground and come into your senses. Now focus on your sense of hearing. What birds do you hear? How many different songs or calls can you hear? Do you know what species they belong to? If not, just give them names of your own, as I did in the observation that begins Chapter Five (the Eight-Note Bird and Wheet).
Following are some suggestions for deepening your awareness of the birds. You may want to follow some or all of them.
Where are the birds singing from? Draw a rough map of your home base, and mark approximately where you hear each bird.
For a week, come back and listen, referring each time to your map. Do you often hear the same bird in the same place? Can you identify a home base for that individual, a possible nesting place?
Keep a bird log of all the different birds you hear. Again, if you don't know the species, give it a name of your own. Try logging birds on one of the following schedules:
For half an hour at the same time of day each week (and again in different seasons)
For half an hour at dawn, just after sunrise, and at midday, twilight, and darkness
On the first day of each month, over several years (to learn if the species count changes over the years)
Few of us will be quite so thorough in our observations, but just thinking about these questions will help us sharpen our awareness and take in more information.
The Five Voices
Learning to recognize the five voices of the songbirds — the call, the song, the feeding plea, male to male aggression, and the alarm call — takes nothing more than time, practice, and a bit of empathy. Remember that these five voices apply only to the songbirds (the passerine, or perching birds) not to the corvids (the crows, ravens, etc.) or the jays, who are a law unto themselves, nor to the raptors, the birds of prey.
Now as you listen to the birds in your home base, you'll be able to identify the following voices.
The Call. The call is the bird's basic "Here I am" statement. It's regular, repeated, and often echoed by a mate, as if they were saying, "I'm here, sweetie; everything's fine." "I'm here, too; all's well." "I'm still here; everything's fine." "I'm here, too; all's well."
The song. The song is generally more elaborate, sung especially in the spring. Many birds burst into song with the sun's rising, and why not believe that they are filled with joy and delight and gratitude for a new day, singing their general well-being and thanks? Western scientists, however, maintain that they are defending their turf and advertising for mates, that their song is the bird equivalent of "Single male robin with good breeding territory seeks committed relationship. If you thrill to a sunrise and enjoy a good, juicy, early worm, if you dream of sharing a nest and rearing a clutch of eggs . . . let's meet for a twilight flight and explore possibilities."
The Feeding Plea. You're likely to hear this mostly in spring and early summer. It's the begging cry of baby birds, generally high-pitched, frantic, and recognizable to any parent: "Hey Mom, I'm hungry! Dad, more worms! Where are you guys? I'm starving! Feed me! Feed me!"
Male-to-Male Aggression. This too is a spring/early summer mating and nesting thing. It can sound like an alarm, but it's limited to one species of bird. Again, it's not hard to recognize or identify with: "This is my turf!" "Yeah, well I'm taking over; move on out!" "You move, you ***!!!*%%**." "Take that, you !!***!!*%%**."
The Alarm Call. A true alarm spreads from one species to another and often moves out over the landscape, following the path of a predator. It might be a bird's normal call, speeded up or more frantic in pitch. Squirrels and jays often join in. Again, a real expert can tell exactly what is moving through the forest by the nature of the alarm calls. Personally, I'm still at the stage of "Hmmm, something is sure upsetting that chickadee. I wonder what it is." An alarm sounds like, "Look out! Look out!" "Head's up, everybody!" "Watch out! Watch out!"
An alarm in the forest tells you that some predator is on the prowl. It might be dangerous to you: a cougar. It might be a danger only to the birds: a hawk or a housecat. It might be something simply out of place: another human in a bad temper.
What the Birds Are Saying About You
Yes, the birds are talking about you. Whenever you go into the woods or out to a meadow, the birds notice you and they respond to the state of consciousness you're in. If you are crashing through the woods, talking loudly, or thinking loudly about how mad you are at that person in your office who sent you the nasty email, you probably won't see or hear many birds. They will simply flee, and you will walk through a silent landscape, probably not noticing the birds at all.
When you are grounded, in your senses, practicing your awareness techniques, and attempting to walk silently and respectfully, the birds will let you come closer. Eventually, they'll simply "hook" — that is, move to a minimally safe distance away. When you gain enough practice, awareness, stillness, respect, and love, they may even approach or not change their behavior at all.
The birds and animals will be our teachers if we let them. The other day I was walking in the forest, stepping as silently as I could on a bed of fallen leaves, practicing being in my senses, not my thoughts. All was going well until my mind strayed to the upcoming WTO protest in Cancun, and the likelihood of police violence there. At that moment, a squirrel leaped onto a branch above my head and began scolding me, deeply affronted. It was as if he were saying, "How dare you bring those nasty thoughts into the woods! Here you were, walking so quietly and we thought you were a nice, safe human, and then you come out with that! I'm shocked at you! And just when we're rearing young ones!"
I stood still and apologized, but it did no good. He continued to follow and scold me until I was out of his home territory.
On the other hand, I was on the same trail one day, passing through the same rustling dry leaves, when my mind strayed to the possible scenario for an erotic film my friend Donna and I are always threatening to make. A whole covey of quail came out of the tanoaks and continued feeding very calmly just a few yards away from me, paying me no mind whatsoever.
As you sit in your home base or walk through the woods, notice how the birds and animals are responding to you. Do their responses change as your awareness changes? Your emotions? The content of your thoughts? As your ability to ground and be in your senses deepens, how do the wild animals mirror that change?— Starhawk in The Earth Path