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.
p.s. this post is dedicated to my partner Siobhan, who loves cows like no other.
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i love cows
Love love love
I’m coming in late to the discussion, I listen to each and every one of your soundscapes, but not always “johnny on the spot.” Lang, I am in love with your “labors of love” (I hesitate to call it “work”) and listen with great joy to each of your soundscapes, saving them to enjoy over and over. I don’t often comment (I should)–I’m a passionate birder and particularly a passionate “soundie”–but this one really struck a chord. I grew up on a dairy farm, not far from where you are, Wellsville (Allegany County), and while these don’t look or sound… Read more »
Mary Ann: Good to hear from you and it’s great that this recording (of Black Angus) is bringing back pleasant childhood memories of farm fields with “mooing cows, burbling Bobolinks, and singing Song-Sparrows and Towhees.” I hope to give you lots more “dreaming pleasure” in the weeks, months, and perhaps years to come.
I would like to believe the cows are “cow-municating” or “com-moo-nicating” to each other in the pasture. A moo-riffic recording Lang.
Seriously, I enjoyed the cows’ chorus. It brings me back when I lived in the country where farmland were plentiful. Today, very few farms remain. Instead we have strip malls or subdivisions/condominiums with traffic soundscape.
Enjoy your time in Virginia.
I like “com-moo-nicating”!
I thought you would.
Such a “moooving” experience, Lang! …. absolutely love cows and this is fascinating to listen to and wonder what it’s all about. I hope they’re not distressed and just enthusiastically communicating with each other. Also, not positive, but I think I hear a red bellied woodpecker in the beginning (around 26 seconds in) and a Towhee (around 3.50)? Thanks for sharing!
Yes and Yes … good ears!
My first impression is that they remind me of Tibetan horns trumpeting a call to inner presence and prayer, announcing the day. I’ve seen pictures of these beautiful long instruments. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_horn
Thank you for this special visit to your morning’s field.
Donna: Yes, that’s a good comparison. Love those Tibetan horns.
Love It! Did you hear the rooster at 3:50?
see end of second-to-last paragraph. : >)
‘Moo Music’ in reverse. 1970 visiting friend in Montana. The old man of the house could not practice his bagpipes in the house (obvious), so it was outside near a farm field. I could hear him playing and when I looked outside, EVERY BLACK ANGUS 30 OF THEM IN THIS LARGE FIELD WERE AT THE FENCE ‘SHOULDER TO SHOULDER, HEADS AND EARS ERECT! All listening to the music. Go figure! What a site I will never forget. Music is the same for all of us!
That’s a great story, Mark. Wish I had a recording of him playing his bagpipes.
Here’s a related story. Fellow recordist Bill Evans once made a recording in the wee hours of pe-dawn that he thought was an unusual cry from a Long-eared Owl. Weeks later he had dinner with a neighboring farmer (of European origin) and played him the recording. The farmer smiled and informed Bill that he was the twilight-crier, calling-in his cows using an ancient chant that had been passed down from his ancestors. The joke was on Bill, who, though clearly embarrassed, took it fairly well.
I LOVE this soundscape, although they do sound distressed. Cows hate change. But at least they will enjoy the fields while they are on the earth as a cow. Thanks for posting it. Loved your change in outlook from the first moment to the end. Good Attitude!!
Maybe they are complaining about the change (going from farmyard to pasture), while at the same time expressing some degree of pleasure at seeing all the green grass growing, A mix of sentiment, like saying “don’t do that some more”.
This is often the time of year the calves are weaned, but you said there were also calves in the same field with the mamas? Like in the photo? I also do not hear any babies bawling, just mamas. I love those sounds too with the bird backdrop. Maybe it was just their morning chorus in the new green grass in a new place. Ours on our farm often seem to be mooey-ist at dawn and dusk. Wasn’t a bull in there with them was there? Thanks Lang!
Yes, I saw a number of calves and all were with moms. I didn’t hear any babies bawling, not just at this location, but several others later in the morning. Also, this group vocal affair ended abruptly after about fifteen minutes and the fields were quiet for the next fifteen or twenty minutes (after which I left). I was thinking it could just be and example of being “mooey-at-dawn,” which I have noticed a number of times (though in this case it was quite extended). I didn’t see any bulls, but the braying near the end, which came from across… Read more »
In The #1 Ladies Detective Agency.Ma Remotswe describes Radio Botswana signing on with cattle and bell sounds.
I suspect critters see you coming with your equipment and say, “This is it! This my big break!” … Just a theory.
Here’s a diagnosis of possible causes of mooing gleaned from the internet:
1. during weaning (cows and calves moo for a couple of days, then move on with their lives)
2. during calving
3. during mating
4. if something is bothering them (dog, etc.)
5. if one is separated, it will fuss
6. when the feed truck arrives
7. when they’re hungry
According to this list, there is no “happiness” moo, unless mating qualifies. So they are probably not mooing because they are grooving on their new digs.
Well it is a list but it may be neither authoritative or indisputably complete, so I retain my sense that joyfulness is an option. One has only to observe calves, like goat kids, baby elephants, squirrels or dolphins, pronking, leaping, dancing, exploring their new life adventure in all its blessed beauty to know in one’s essential self, if not in scientific fact [such as it may be], that animals express joy. That out though, I agree there are so many possibles in the voices you recorded here, you in your own gut sense may know the best of the plausible… Read more »
Sharon: See my response to Lynn above. It is definitely possible this is more celebration-oriented than it is a sign of distress. I’m open to either, or a combination of the two. I’m not a cow expert, so I must defer to those who know more than I. My gut sense was initially celebration, but my gut has been wrong on more than one occasion, even though I respect its instincts.
If I ever lost sight of one of my precious wee ones I’d moo too for all the world to hear!
Ah, Lang, thank you. Generally, the calls between momma and calf are very low and quite soft. It is actually a very sweet sound. The higher calls can be when they have become separated from the mommas, and there are varying reasons for that. Cows are incredibly social and form strong friendships, so will also become distressed if a herd is split up for some reason.
Reminds me of WFMU, a very popular independent listener sponsored community radio station broadcasting out of Jersey City, NJ (New York and the Hudson Valley): there is//used to be a contemporary music show hosted by a fellow whose trademark (among other things) was to run ambient mooing of cows as background to his narratives. I was not a regular listener but found it quite amusing on those occasions I was dial twisting to come upon him. As you say, there is something quite primal in the sound.
Then there was Robert Lurtsema on WGBH in Boston, who played nature soundscapes at the beginning of his Pro Musica radio program.
Your comment brings back memories. Robert J helped me get out of bed on many a morning with his birdsongs and soft acoustic music.
this reminds me of whale songs!
♥ Love it – especially with your great notes. “Cows” are “Wows” to me, Siobhan ♥
Greenbird … see new paragraph I’ve added in light of Susan’s comment below. You might also know the answer …
When cows are moved to new pastures, they often lose contact with their calves and spend a lot of time calling, reconnecting and finding each other as they become adjusted to their new environs.
But there are also lots of bird calls to be heard between the moos! Lovely recording
So do you think a lot of the mooing in this recording is from distressed momma cows looking for their calves? If that’s the case, I’ll have to modify my text.
p.s. I saw a number of calves, though all were with mums as in the photo.
Susan: See new paragraph that I’ve added, to raise the possibility that many of the moo-makers are distressed and not celebrating at all. Did you grow up on a farm?
Love this so much, Lang. The cows sound happy to be in the fields and seem to be talking with each other.
Thank you for the moo-scape. Back in the 70’s I recorded crows and observations on crows in the diary country of Somerset, England. Behind the crows, I had all sorts of agricultural sounds, including a British farmer calling in his cows of a winter evening. I had always imagined I would dig those tapes out and do something with them. Unfortunately, the barn in which they were stored burned to the ground this spring, taking with it all my tapes and research notes. Knowing this, I suppose you can imagine how grateful I am for your posted recordings. All the… Read more »
Really love this soundscape, Lang. Esp the ways it harkens back to primal days of yore! i think what you do is so important, and now look forward to your newsletter every week.
Thanks Laura. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying my soundscapes … or rather nature’s soundscapes channeled through me.
I love the resonance of the mooooo (s). 🙂 Just lovely.
wonderfully resonant. i am from indiana so heard many cows in my life. have always loved their songs. amazing how many sounds they actually have. and the little sparrow song so clear and dear.
They are indeed quite expressive, with many variations on the moo and bellowing themes.
That takes me back to my childhood when I lived in my great grandpa’s log house. He had cows in the field and they would come when he called them for “supper”. It was a magical time for me. Sweet memories!
You’re welcome Ellen. It was quite a surprise to get this, most certainly the highlight of my morning.
I love the cows Lang! Beautiful. I like to think they are trumpeting their joy and amazement at being let out of their muddy and smelly winter quarters eating hay to the lush summer of freedom and fresh grass ahead
What a resounding song that hearkens to primal joy, perhaps the cows’ own freedom song. Not too long before little ones will be pronking about in their new world, their new life. This is unusual, and yet so beautiful; so glad you captured rather than let it go.
Cows are such lovely creatures–hear, hear, Siobhan!
If my rabbits could see that expanse of white clover they’d be envious.
There were some little ones out there, as in the photo, which I took on location.
The moo-scape reminds me of growing up on a dairy farm in Chenango County where we heard the cows express their joy when they first went out to pasture in the spring. They were so happy.
Might be an expression of happiness. How are we to know?
We don’t know, Lang. But the whole of nature does! There are some languages we humans will never understand and don’t need to. We can just listen and stare with wonder!
yep, and that’s exactly what I do: listen and stare with wonder!
We humans have the audacity to call some animals “dumb”. It’s humbling to realize, they are speaking a language we can’t understand, but they can. And I have a feeling they can understand us pretty well. “Humble Pie” anyone?
Too late. I already ate the whole pie!!
Feeling very humbled at the moment.