Sitting close to the border of Tobago’s Main Ridge rainforest for a few hours some weeks ago afforded me the opportunity to synchronize myself with the natural rhythm of the forest. The wind, the gentle swaying of the trees, the gradient between secondary forest and true virgin rainforest – and perhaps the one aspect that had the most indelible impact on me – the communication that was rampant across the various avian species.
Now we know that birds sing, chirp, tweet, whatever we call it; but what’s in that call? What information is contained in their vocalizations? For starters, we know that certain species of birds have different types of calls for different events, such as mating, rivalry, alarm, etc. I’ve always thought that these calls are very species-specific. In the sense that ok, if an Orange-winged Parrot flies overhead squawking at the top of its lungs, then that’s communication to other parrots, right?
Somehow birds are hard-wired to respond to the alarm calls of other species. In places where there are monkeys or deer, they all listen out for the alarm calls of the appointed sentinel. In this case, I came upon a great to-do in the forest, there was apparently a large snake hiding out behind a small embankment, and it was driving my feathered friends up a wall. Now I didn’t have to see it to know it was there, snakes are the only predator these birds have to worry about, and these birds were worrying all right.
Just check out the look of great consternation on the face of this White-lined Tanager.
His mate shared his opinion, that’s for sure.
A White-fringed Antwren was also there with his mate, calling constantly. Every call seemed to say “Ahh! A snake! Look! Everyone! Snake!”
Perhaps one of the cutest birds in the world, a Fuscous Flycatcher calmly popped in to scope the commotion. Saying nothing, it eventually flew off.
In stark contrast with the Fuscous Flycatcher, a group of Stripe-breasted Spinetails were seriously freaking out. Up and down, bobbing in and out, calling, fluttering, fretting. Probably had a nest nearby.
In my solitude within the gentle forest I experienced a sort of awakening. The quietness of the forest was broken by just that example I mentioned – the repeated bleating of a single Orange-winged Parrot flying overhead. It seemed to be saying something. Three “bleats”, then pause, then repeat. Soon after, the Cocricos chimed in. Then the Bananaquits. Before I knew it, everyone was talking about something – and it all was going straight over my head. And just as soon as it began, it abated. And the forest reverted to its ebb and flow of the wind in its branches. This happened a few times while I was there, and it was a truly amazing experience to behold.