Then Pierre introduced us to the study of bird language, based in indigenous practices of deep nature awareness and connection. This is a whole new way (for me) of observing birds. He explained how birds convey so much information about what's going on in the landscape- what predators are on their way, whether a fast-flying
bird-of-prey from above or a hunting mammal from below, where the deer are etc.
About 20 minutes later we were walking along the edge of a field with scattered shrubs and small trees and a forested perimeter. We had been hearing song sparrows, field sparrows, common yellowthroat and goldfinch all morning. Then Pierre paused and became very quiet, his eyes started scanning the sky above and across the field. Then he went back to watching a song sparrow perched at the top of a shrub 30 ft away in the field. "What's up?" I asked, thinking the bird looked very upbeat and chirpy. He said, "Notice, is that sparrow making the same types of sounds and movements as the other sparrows were before- is that the natural relaxed but vigilant baseline chatter, or does it sound more agitated?" The rest of us started to tune into the fact that it was flicking its tail more frequently than usual, and it kept hopping from twig to twig and turning, looking this way and that, making more frequent vocalizations. It seemed agitated. Other songbirds were acting similarly.
"Something is coming, something is making them feel threatened," Pierre observed. "Is it us?" I asked. "Hmm, no we've been moving through here for awhile and this just started." "It could be on the ground," we didn't see any movement through the grasses, "but more likely from above, like a hawk." Pierre had told us earlier that songbirds can give a few minutes of advance warning that a predator is on its way, as they call their warnings across the landscape.
Two to three minutes passed by, and as we saw nothing arrive, I thought, "Too bad, we'll never know what it was." Then suddenly Simon and I noticed a dark prominent shape flying fast above the forest by Green's Creek, heading east across the field. I felt a jolt of fear- woah, it's a Cooper's Hawk!! One of the world's most skillful fliers and a super deadly threat as they feed their own young almost nothing but songbirds. No wonder the songbirds were freaking out! How amazing that they knew it was coming long before we did. But Pierre had been cluing in, sensing a disturbance to the regular background vocalizations. A minute later after the hawk was gone, the birds' activities and sounds returned to normal. Phew, made it through that one!
As Jon Young writes in his bird language book "What The Robin Knows", "It is a jungle out there- even in the backyard- and I don't think we can possibly comprehend the level of awareness that a bird must have in order to survive."
After hearing more from Pierre about the vast potential of cool things one can become aware of by observing bird language, we are keen to have Pierre back to lead a workshop specifically on Bird Language. Just Food Farm is the perfect place for it.
If you'd be interested in attending such a workshop (in east Ottawa), please leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com. We'll need a minimum of 6 participants to run the workshop. Thanks.