Noisy Birds and Language Documentation

Recordings in the field can be easily disturbed. During my Baskeet fieldwork, the most common noises that threaten good-quality recordings are loud evangelical pop music, hee-hawing donkeys, crowing cocks, the steady beat of diesel engines from the mills, and – if one happens to be around in the rainy season – rain showers beating on the tin roof.

Among wild birds there are four species that pose potentials threats to my recordings.

1. Hornbills

The silvery-cheeked hornbills (called hagicca in Baskeet) are among the most beautiful birds in Baskeet. They feed on fruits (e.g. of the sycamore fig) and they usually come in pairs. They are great to watch and I am always happy to see them in the trees on my walks. However, they can be quite noisy, though probably not noisy enough to spoil the recording of songs, stories and conversations – but they manage to produce unwanted background noise for recordings that you’d prefer to be undisturbed (e.g. sound examples for a dictionary).

Silvery-cheeked hornbills

Silvery-cheeked hornbills

2. Ibises

The wattled ibises (called haazaaza) are a little louder than the hornbills. What’s more, they like to be around people’s settlements and sit on roofs (at least on mine).

Wattled ibis

Wattled ibis

3. Vultures

Vultures (in Baskeet: ankka) can be a pest when you happen to live beside an eatery that slaughters an ox almost every morning (which is exactly what happened to me). (BTW, it is the same eatery that “entertained” me with their evangelical pop music.) It’s not the squawks of the vultures that make it onto my recordings, it’s the scratching noise of their claws when they walk and jump around on my tin roof while preying on the meat in my neighbours’ compound. I am not sure about the vulture species common in Baskeet, my guess would be the hooded vulture (corrections welcome!).



4. Ravens

The “worst” birds are the thick-billed ravens (in Baskeet: doots’a): their croaking is unbelievably noisy and, in addition to that, they seem to love landing on tin roofs with a loud thud, taking off and landing repeatedly, walking and jumping around and scratching the iron sheets with their claws. The noise makes you cringe. As the ravens are also after the meat in the neighbours’ compound, like the vultures, I could “enjoy” this noise almost every morning when I was in the field last time.

Thick-billed raven

Thick-billed raven

Don’t get me wrong. When I don’t wear my recording hat, I love birds, especially the four species mentioned above :-)

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