cows in meadow Dawn chorus and mooing cows. 5:30am, 22 May 2016. Finger Lakes National Forest near Trumansburg, New York. © Lang Elliott. Please play at a moderate volume to simulate a natural listening experience.

During the third week of May, farmers release their cows into the meadows at Finger Lakes National Forest. Though many are destined for the plate, they no doubt thrive all summer long, happily chewing their cud in the deep grass that blankets the ground.

As you might suspect, their appearance can have a drastic effect on the natural soundscape. This morning provided a case in point. I arrived at Willow Pond at first light, with the intention of wandering the edge of marsh and meadow in search of an interesting mix of sound. I was expecting to hear some moos from the cows, but not a massive group performance lasting nearly ten minutes.

At first I was irritated, but soon realized that I was witnessing something very primal, harking back to a time before these animals had seen the face of man. I was captivated by their sounds, especially how they echoed across the landscape … full-bodied, earth-shaking voices that could be heard perhaps a mile or more away. Why so much to say? Might they be celebrating, singing praise to creation in their lush, green cathedral of the fields? Or not?

As suggested by my friend Susan (see her comment below), many of the moos could be given by distressed cows trying to adjust to their new surroundings, or else something even more sinister … mamma cows frantically sounding off because they have lost contact with their young (which may happen accidentally when the farmers release the cows into the pastures). Maybe those who grew up on farms can provide an answer? Are these cows celebrating, or are they distressed? Or some combination of the two?

A recent study of DNA has shown that domestic cows have been with us for about 10,500 years, being traced back to a small herd of Wild Ox in the Near East (close to where Iran is today). The mooing that we hear in our meadows today is very similar to the mooing of the wild variety, hence the “moo-scape” featured above harks back to soundscapes of the past, to a time well before human beings appeared on the scene.

The accompanying bird sounds are diverse. I won’t attempt to list them all here, because they aren’t the center of interest. But do listen for the loud Song Sparrow that appears about three minutes into the recording, plus the songs of Red-winged Blackbird, American Robin, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Bobolink, Field Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler (did I miss anything obvious … like that rooster crowing way off in the distance?).

Let me know what you think of this recording. How nice it was for me, standing quietly in the meadow and witnessing firsthand a most amazing sound event.

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p.s. this post is dedicated to my partner Siobhan, who loves cows like no other.

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