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A Colony of Screechers And Wailers

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A Colony of Screechers And Wailers

A Colony of Screechers And Wailers

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

One of the few species that has not appeared in a Cal Worthington ad is the subject of our next story. Off the west coast of Ireland, there's a rocky speck of land known as Great Blasket Island. Every year, thousands of Manx shearwaters gather there before their annual migration to South America. These ocean-going birds don't build nests, but make burrows in the ground instead. As part of our series Sounds Wild, we're going to Great Blasket with Asta Bowen to hear these birds flying home to their burrows.

(Soundbite of birds)

ASTA BOWEN: This is an extraordinary bird. The Manx shearwater, Puffinus puffinus, according to the local wisdom, only really call on misty and moonless nights.

(Soundbite of bird calls)

BOWEN: Their black or dark-gray brown depends on the season on top, and then they shade down to white underneath.

(Soundbite of bird calls)

BOWEN: The adults, by the way, are gone from the burrows and gone from the island throughout the daylight hours, and they only come back after dark. And so the chicks, then, are left essentially unattended all day, and the adults have been feeding, presumably, out on the water all day. And so they're bringing back their small fish that they've fished for, and bringing those back to the young in the nest.

(Soundbite of bird calls)

BOWEN: At this point, I'm set up with the stereo mic pointed right into the burrows on a little tripod. And so the adult birds were landing and actually, in some cases, knocking into the mic and pushing it around on the tripod. And then some of the calls, the squeaky calls, are perhaps the young in the burrows, begging.

(Soundbite of bird calls)

BOWEN: There is something compelling about the shearwater. There are wailers and screechers and screamers, and it's a very electric sound.

(Soundbite of bird calls)

BOWEN: I felt like this was one of the highlights of my life.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks to Asta Bowen and NPR's science correspondent Christopher Joyce for tracking down these wild sounds. The recordings come from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

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