Listening Closely to the Birds

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Welcome. Pre-dawn, the sounds in the house are few and predictable: the refrigerator lurching to a hum, then off again; the steam knocking in the pipes. This morning, however, the pigeons, delirious with the expanse of dark that was all theirs, thrashed against the windows, landed with thuds on the A/C units. On purpose? By accident? I imagine them sleepy and clumsy, or else showing off to one another, their morning calisthenics.

A few years ago, the artist Duke Riley affixed LED lights to the ankles of 2,000 rock doves and conducted them in a twilight performance over the Brooklyn waterfront. “Pigeons, I think they actually are paying quite a bit of attention to us all the time,” Mr. Riley said in an interview with The Times. “Just as people do, they’re constantly learning and watching and absorbing and taking information and paying a lot of attention to us, even if we’re not paying any attention to them.”

The debate between those who say “pigeons are rats with wings” versus those who argue that “pigeons are beautiful avian specimens that transported messages during World War II” is a low-stakes, high-passion standoff, one where the public health and safety risks pigeons pose are likely to tip the scales. Today, though, I’m appreciating their wing thumps and guttural coos, the soundscape they create.

The blogger Jason Kottke recently wrote about Sounds of the Forest, a collection of “aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands” displayed on a map. Click anywhere in the world and you can listen to a forest recording from that region. Our attention these days, six months into the pandemic, is seized by the massive changes to our landscapes, the profound shifts we’re observing and undergoing. We might, understandably, forget to notice birdsong underneath, that the pigeons are still paying attention to us even as we keep moving onward and into whatever is next.

Whenever I consider how birds move together, I think of “Part of Eve’s Discussion,” a perfect poem by Marie Howe in which “a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop.” It’s worth a read today.

What does it sound like where you are? Which birds or breezes, construction vehicles or traffic jams, hollering neighbors or dogs barking or kids cavorting comprise your daily sonic geography? Write to us and tell us or send us a short recording from your phone if you’re so inclined: [email protected]. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. And you’ll find more ideas for living a good life at home or near it below. See you on Friday.

Credit…Ilya Milstein

Credit…Yossy Arefi for The New York Times (Photography and Styling)
Credit…Sabiha Çimen for The New York Times
  • Before the pandemic, the writer Leslie Jamison visited the hammams of Istanbul. Now, she reflects on the experience of being bathed by and with strangers as “close to the opposite of the ceaseless bodily vigilance that would follow during quarantine and its containments: measuring my body’s distance from other bodies, trapping my breath with a mask, caring for other people by staying away from them.”

  • Drawing on the absurdist Jell-O mold tradition of the 1950s, homemakers, artists and amateur bakers are using wild palettes to create intentionally imperfect cakes that comment on ideas of gender, power and respectability. Check them out.

  • And in the premiere of her new podcast “Sway,” Kara Swisher interviews House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Have a listen.

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