SAM COOK: Sounds of the wild
I was sleeping fairly soundly one night recently when I was awakened by a sound outside the open window. It's difficult to describe -- three short, guttural calls. I lay there, listening for more, but that was it. The noises weren't barks. They w...
I was sleeping fairly soundly one night recently when I was awakened by a sound outside the open window. It’s difficult to describe - three short, guttural calls. I lay there, listening for more, but that was it.
The noises weren’t barks. They weren’t anything an owl does. They weren’t the eerie yowling of fighting house cats. They weren’t a “buck snort,” that quick exhalation a deer emits when it’s alarmed or trying to discern another critter in the woods.
The sounds I heard seemed like what I would imagine a hog belch to sound like.
My wife heard the sound, too, and was equally baffled.
“But I didn’t think it sounded like a hog belch,” she said.
A day later, it dawned on me. It must have been a deer grunting. For one thing, deer are by far the most numerous of the wild critters that frequent our urban yard in Duluth. It would be logical that the sound could have come from a deer. I headed for the computer and Googled, “Sounds deer make.” (Google - what a resource.) Several websites came up. The third one I went to had a whole list of deer sounds, each with a short audio clip. Buck grunts. Doe grunts. Fawn bleats. And variations on each. I started playing them, and any of three or four could have been the exact sound I heard outside our window that night.
I called my wife into the room. “Listen,” I said. “Does this sound like what you heard the other night?” Bluhhp. Buhhhhhp. Buhhhhh. “Yeah,” she said. “That was it.”
Sometimes, readers call me or catch me at some gathering and, mistaking me for someone who knows something about wildlife, say, “Hey, I heard something outside the other night that I couldn’t figure out. It made a sound like this.”
Then, the person issues a hoot, a yelp, a howl, a series of whistles, a screech, a bark, a yap, a growl or some other sound - and looks at me.
“What do you think that was?” the person asks.
My answer is almost always the same: “I don’t know.”
I hear people describe wild yowling screeches that must be bobcats or some other large feline. But I can’t be sure.
One night at dinner, a woman said she had heard a sound in the dark outside her rural home that she hoped I could identify.
“It was like, ‘Whoop, woop’ and then, ‘Whoop-woop,’ ” she said. “I think it was a bird.”
Then she looked at me the way people always do, waiting for me to issue my answer.
As usual, I had no good answer. I said that not many birds make sounds at night except for owls, and I’d never heard a “whoop-woop”-ing owl. Yes, I’ve heard a snipe winnowing over a swamp at night, but that’s not the sound my friend was making.
The fact is, a lot of animals make sounds that most of us never get to hear. And when they make them at night and we do hear them, we rarely get visual verification.
The best we can do is wonder.
Or guess and Google.
Cook is an outdoors writer and columnist for the Duluth News Tribune, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or email@example.com .