Loud mechanical-sounding chirps
August 17, 2006 10:31 PM   Subscribe

What are these fascinating, extremely loud mechanical-sounding chirps coming from trees during the day in the middle of New York City?

Walking around in New York -- Brooklyn in particular, but also Manhattan -- I have been hearing these nearly identical, incredibly loud noises seemingly coming from the trees in the middle of the day. It is a harsh whirring drone, vaguely mechanical, like a fishing reel, a defective fan or possibly a sewing machine; it starts low and increases in volume until it stops abruptly, although sometimes it winds down like a rusty old propeller. The only insect I have read about which can produce such loud noise is the cicada, but the few sound clips I have found do not sound much like what I have heard.
posted by gentle to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
Are they cell phone trees? Or trees containing urban mockingbirds?
posted by limeonaire at 10:37 PM on August 17, 2006

It's hard to tell from 9644 miles away - but that description certainly sounds like the cicadas around here.

And, yes, the sound clips I've heard on the 'net don't really sound like the ones I'm familiar with IRL.
posted by Pinback at 10:38 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Definitely cicadas. We get them here in Chicago, but it's rare to actually see them. When they emerge from the ground they climb onto a nearby surface, shed their skin and then take to the trees.

Wherein they make lots of noise.

Some friends were visiting from London last year and found them extremely unnerving. They'd never heard anything like it. But they've been a part of my life for so long I don't even notice the sound anymore. Like the hum of fluorescent lights, I only notice it when it goes away.
posted by aladfar at 10:52 PM on August 17, 2006

Gentle: That's how I'd describe some of the cicadas I've heard. There's quite a few varieties, each of which makes their own sound. One thing you might want to check are temperatures: I can't remember if it's that the same cicadas make different sounds at different temperatures, or that different cicadas only chirp at certain temperatures, but either way, the sounds made by cicadas correlate with the temperatures. If you find that those metal sounds are only made, for example, on days when it's 30 degrees outside, and when the temperature drops to 26 that they stop, or there's a different sound, then it's likely cicadas. If you hear the same sounds no matter what the temperature, then it's unlikely to be cicadas.
posted by Bugbread at 10:54 PM on August 17, 2006

Right now? Definitely cicadas. Here's some good sound files (even though they seem to mostly be individual). The ones around here (central Illinois) sound mostly like this, except that's muted a bit :)
posted by sbutler at 10:58 PM on August 17, 2006

Any chance it was a recorded sound used to drive away another pest?
posted by sohcahtoa at 4:35 AM on August 18, 2006

In playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo DS, I've discovered that there are several different types of cicada, each of which has a different and distinct sound.
Evening cicada, robust cicada, walker cicada, brown cicada, and probably more.

They're pretty easy to catch, and are worth a decent amount of money at the shop. Uh... but I'm not sure anymore whether that's in the game, or in real life - sorry. :/
posted by Chunder at 4:38 AM on August 18, 2006

posted by R. Mutt at 5:53 AM on August 18, 2006

Yeah, they're cicadas. I'm in New York too and been hearing them like crazy this summer. The weird thing is that you'll suddenly notice the sound and think "How did I not notice that sound when I first walked outside!" It'll go in and out of your consciousness.
posted by witchstone at 6:44 AM on August 18, 2006

The cicadas I have apparently been hearing sound a bit like this swamp cicada from sbutler's link, but not quite.

One thing you might want to check are temperatures: ... the sounds made by cicadas correlate with the temperatures.

The sounds I have heard have all followed the exact same pattern as I described, but they seem to only occur during the day, until early evening. I have rarely heard them after nine.
posted by gentle at 7:19 AM on August 18, 2006

When I was working for a power company, we had a customer call us saying her transformer (actually, "that metal bucket on top the pole by my house") was about to explode.

I went out there to find the problem. Didn't find anything wrong, but she said had been making a loud noise that sounded like it was about to explode.

A few days later, she called me to say it was doing it again. I drove over there, and ... nothing.

The following week, a third call, and this time when I got there the cicada in her tree near the pole was awake.

I guess my point is, yeah, they do sound mechanical, don't they?
posted by ewagoner at 7:20 AM on August 18, 2006

To me, here in Ohio, Cicadas are summer. The drone, when noticed, instantly relaxes me.

They remind me of days when it is too hot to do anything but lounge about with a glass of lemonaid, watch the clouds, and pray for a thunderstorm.
posted by Mick at 8:36 AM on August 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

Cicadas are the sound of summer in anime.
posted by joelr at 10:41 AM on August 18, 2006

But the Japanese version sounds different from those I know on the East Coast. Those're typically a late-afternoon and early evening sound, except for the 17-year cicadas which do their thing during the day.

Note that these insects are also known as locusts.
posted by Rash at 6:02 PM on August 18, 2006

Crickets and other insect songs do indeed make a summer, but there is nothing soothing about these cicadas. The sound is about as pleasant as a lawnmower outside your window.

That's a nice story, ewagoner; that cricket song certainly has a bit of "something is about to explode" about it.
posted by gentle at 9:23 PM on August 18, 2006

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