insert [seagulls crying] here!
June 11, 2011 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Why are there birdcalls looping in my neighborhood?

This is perhaps going to sound crazy, but in the two different (multi-year) occasions I've lived in my current neighborhood (super close to the Twin City Plaza in Somerville/Inman Square) I've heard the same looping track of bird calls over and over and over again, day in and day out.

Google searches of things like "looping birdcalls" and "cambridge bird calls" and "recorded bird noises bird watching" etc. aren't producing anything helpful, and I'm finally just dying to know why this is happening.

- The calls in question are in 5-20 second bursts, different birds, in a track that maybe lasts a minute or two long
- The track itself repeats a couple times on the hour, but I'm not entirely sure - I've honestly never paid attention long enough to count how many times this happens. I do hear it multiple times (5+) a day, however.
- I recognize the bird calls as local birds, specifically some seagulls, a hawk, and then (what I assume) are some sparrows and other local sea-birds.
- I can say with 100% certainty that these are recordings - the calls are identical every time, so it's not like I'm just hearing the neighborhood birds, of which there are also many. (Not to mention, I'm not on the water, so there are no seagulls nearby to be making sounds repeatedly!)
- I specifically notice it when the weather is warm enough that I leave my windows open, and it's clearly from somewhere nearby, though I have no idea where it's coming from. It could run all winter long, but I don't really know, and I never hear this from street-level, only from a couple stories up.
- This has been going on for years. YEARS.

What I'm dying to find out:
1. Is this some sort of birdcalling thing to attract local birds for someone's birdwatching pleasure? Or something else completely random?
2. Does this happen in other places, or is there some neighborhood loon who is just blasting these over and over again?
3. Regardless of whether or not this is a common occurrence, can anyone local identify who or what owns this? I'd understand, maybe, if I was somewhere less urban or if there was a research station nearby, but I'm in a residential neighborhood and there's almost no wildlife or even trees this seems kind of strange.
posted by amestar_runner to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Whoops, I accidentally removed the part of my original question that clarified that I live in the "Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area of MA."
posted by amestar_runner at 1:54 PM on June 11, 2011

This happens at the WVU Mountaineer Field football stadium opposite Ruby Hospital. I always assumed it was to *scare away* birds (maybe, keep birds from crapping on the astroturf?).
posted by media_itoku at 1:59 PM on June 11, 2011

On googling, it could be something like this: distress and predator calls to scare away geese, pigeons etc.
posted by media_itoku at 2:03 PM on June 11, 2011

There was a store in the middle of an outdoor mall area near my college campus that ran squawks you could hear up and down the street. It was to keep pigeons away.
posted by carsonb at 2:07 PM on June 11, 2011

They have this at an office complex near me, which has a large outdoor water feature in the center. Apparently it is to try and scare off certain types of birds, by playing the sounds of their natural bird predators.
posted by Joh at 2:08 PM on June 11, 2011

I once heard a tape loop of hawk calls coming from a fast food joint that I imagine was to initmidate scavengers like gulls and rodents.
posted by Jode at 2:11 PM on June 11, 2011

I want to know now too! Are you absolutely sure it couldn't be a mockingbird? They are expert at what they do. They only imitate the birds they hear around them, so all the sounds they make would be local birds. They sound exactly like recordings. My arch nemesis, also known as the mockingbird that lives in the sycamore tree next to my bedroom window, has 11 calls "on loop" and repeats them in exactly the same way every time. A long shot, but a possibility.
posted by iconomy at 2:12 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My thought was also mockingbird, and yes, they can sing all night (I'm looking at you, annoying mockingbird from a couple of years ago). Not being right on the water does not mean no gulls - gulls will go anywhere there's food. A number of gull species nest on inland lakes, and may spend much of their time commuting from no-water areas to water areas.

If it were some business bent on discouraging scavengers (pigeons, starlings), then I can't imagine why the tape loop would contain anything other than predator calls, and the calls of sparrows and seabirds aren't that.

It could be a psychotic birder working on their birding-by-ear skillz, but I'd lean more towards mockingbird.
posted by rtha at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2011

Brooklyn's IKEA uses taped bird calls to keep pigeons away.
posted by thejoshu at 3:09 PM on June 11, 2011

I recently watched a mockingbird cycle through the same 3 or 4 calls, same tempo and duration, about 5 times once before I wandered off. I could see the bird and I think he was trying to scare me away. The 3 or 4 calls he was using were all very clearly different varieties. On a sort of fast twitter, one a slow tweety thing, is all I remember, but there were several more. Each cycle sounded just like the one before, and I might have wondered if someone was playing a looped sequence of birdcalls if I hadn't been able to see the bird right above me in a tree.
posted by galadriel at 5:07 PM on June 11, 2011

nthing the mockingbird suggestion. I lived near one once and was pretty amazed at what they do. It could definitely seem like a tape loop.
posted by DarkForest at 5:30 PM on June 11, 2011

Holy crap, I just always assumed this was an attractant and never thought it could be a repellent! I'm probably wrong about the types of birds (my specialty is flora, not fauna!), but there are businesses nearby that could definitely be doing this.

Re: the mockingbird, I've been hearing this for years (4, now?) in the exact same sequence in the exact same place. I kind of would figure by now the little guy would have wandered off? Occam's Razor makes me think this is the repellent thing.

Thanks all! Regardless of the case, I'm just glad to hear there are legit reasons why I'd hear these.
posted by amestar_runner at 6:15 PM on June 11, 2011

The track itself repeats a couple times on the hour, but I'm not entirely sure

I used to live in Somerville in that same area (2003-04), and this is really weird, but the same thing used to wake me up at night during the summer when the bedroom window was open.

I always assumed it was one of those clocks you can get that has different bird calls for the hour chimes. Your note that it seems to repeat on the hour made me think of it.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 10:06 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If any of the calls are musical rather than...shrieky, then it's probably not a repellent. Raptors are not known for their tuneful calls.
posted by rtha at 11:01 PM on June 11, 2011

I have a mockingbird nemesis who mimics the sound of my neighbor's alarm clock many mornings for at least two-three hours straight. I don't put anything past those buggers.
posted by desuetude at 11:44 PM on June 11, 2011

Don't forget that some crosswalks use the sound of a bird to let blind people know they can cross.
posted by cda at 7:41 AM on June 12, 2011

The hospital where I work uses a looped recording of hawks to keep pigeons away so they don't shit on patients/visitors on their way in and out of the hospital. It appears to work, but it's incredibly annoying, IMHO.
posted by ourroute at 8:02 AM on June 12, 2011

At a veggie restaurant across the road from where I work, the same bird calls loop all day. They suppose it scares off pigeons, though I see pigeons casually strolling between the outdoor tables.

There's also a pet shop next to work that puts its parrot cage outside in nice weather, so when the window is open at work we hear a real parrot (RAWK RAWK RAWK) and digitized birds of prey and pigeon distress calls all day.
posted by pracowity at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2011

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