Australian Bird Makes Camera Shutter Sounds

By Anupum Pant

Until now I hadn’t even heard about, probably the most well-known bird of Australia, the Lyrebird. These birds are there on the 10 cents coins in Australia. Their feathers are beautiful, but what these birds can do is truly astonishing – The R2D2s of the real world.

The Lyrebird has been seen mimicking the sounds of at least twenty other birds. That’s not all. Some of these captive Lyrebirds have been seen mimicking sounds of human technology like a camera shutter, car alarm and a chainsaw too – as seen in the video below.

In 1969, as observed by an ornithologist in New England National Park, these birds were able to reproduce sounds of a flute, singing two famous songs of the 30s “The Keel Row” and “Mosquito’s Dance.”  They had learnt it from a farmer who used to play these tunes on a flute.

A word of caution

Although the video would lead you to believe that wild birds have started mimicking sounds of human technology, it isn’t totally true. The birds that has been shown in the video, in reality, are captive birds from Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and from the Adelaide Zoo. While Attenborough makes it seem like the bird is mimicking “sounds of the forest”. these clips are not typically what these wild birds do in the wild.

Maybe it happens in the wild too, but it’s highly unlikely because the human technology sounds are usually lost amidst the forest sounds. Moreover, never in the past has there been a recording of this bird mimicking human technology sounds in the wild. Maybe they do, but science requires evidence.

So, What Does The Fox Say?

By Anupum Pant

One of the most popular videos on YouTube last year was a song sung by two Norwegian brothers titled, The Fox. I’m not sure what was it exactly that made the video go viral, which is not to say that it wasn’t funny.

I think it was those absurd lyrics dropped at a time when you expect something serious, made it so popular. With an infectious catchy tune, the lyrics of this song seem very childish and at the same time, it is sung in a serious tone.
Popularity kept aside for a while, the number poses an important question which not many of us must have considered – What does the fox say? Makes us go looking for answers, doesn’t it?

As scientists would put it, the question this song poses, is indeed a challenging one. It isn’t easy to generally vocalize the sound made by a fox. Also, foxes make variation of sounds for different situations. Moreover, that, there are varieties of foxes out there, makes it even more difficult to answer the question.

The high pitched bark:
For instance, the red fox, which is the most common variety of fox, screams in a high-pitched bark. It sounds like a woman screaming in distress. In words, it sounds like a YAAGGAGHHGHHHHH. And is exactly the reason we aren’t taught this at school. Imagine, the teacher teaching with a YAAGGAGHHGHHHHH in a classroom.

The bird like sound:
When they fight, foxes can sound like birds. Unlike the screams discussed above, these sounds aren’t heard for long distances. Little fox pups also make these guttural sounds when they play. The sound is called Gekkering.

The high-pitched howl:
When greeting a more powerful foxes, weaker ones make a very high-pitched howl that can be heard for several kilometers.

Apart from these broad categories, they make several other subtle variations for different situations. The video below has a good collection of fox sounds:

On that note

What do you think the Cheetah says? Most of us have seen a cheetah (probably at the zoo), but not many must have heard it talk. It may come as a surprise to you that Cheetahs chirp like birds. Or you could call it more of a cat-fight sound.

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Make Your Voice Sound Like a Cowboy (Girls Also)

By Anupum Pant

Everyone who watches The Big Bang Theory on TV must have had a hearty laugh when Sheldon’s voice went funny in the 9th episode of season 3 (video).
In the video, when Sheldon starts talking on an NPR show about magnetic monopoles , Kripke uses a Helium tank to fill Sheldon’s room with Helium. As a result, his [Sheldon’s] voice shifts pitch and starts sounding really funny.

In this article we’ll see, what is it in Helium that makes our voices go funny. And we’ll also see another interesting gas that makes your voice sound like a cowboy. But first, some things about Helium:

Helium Warning

1. Do not use Helium to play. It is kind of a non-renewable resource. At the same time, it is used in laboratories for physics experiments. When you play with it and release it into the atmosphere, Helium is lost forever. I wrote an article on this couple of days back. [Understanding the impending Helium crisis]

2. Although Helium is a non-toxic gas and no it doesn’t kill brain cells, it can still kill you. Pranks like the one Kripke uses, which could potentially fill up the whole room with Helium could have lethal consequences. Too much Helium and you’ll not be breathing [enough] Oxygen. Even if you don’t care about the first point, you should think about inhaling more than 3 Helium filled balloons (or any other gas) during parties – it could kill you by asphyxiation (specifically, Hypoxia).

Talking about death, these speakers can also kill you – Plasma Speakers.

Why does Helium make voices go Daffy duck?

Helium is the second lightest element (gas) after Hydrogen. It is six times lighter than air. And if you’ve read this article on how sound works, you probably know that sound travels with different speeds through different mediums.
The speed of sound is about 3 times faster in helium, than in air. When you take in Helium, it increases the speed of sound that comes out of your mouth. It does nothing to your vocal chords. Faster sound and same wavelength results in a higher frequency sound.

Contrary to what is popularly believed, Helium doesn’t technically alters the pitch of your voice. [Read more]

Sulphur Hexafluoride

Helium voices are quite popular. On the other hand, sulphur Hexafluoride voices aren’t very commonly known.
Completely opposite to Helium, this is 6 times heavier than air. So, inhaling it makes your voice go really deep. The mechanism is just opposite to that of Helium. It makes sound move slower. Again, technically, it doesn’t change the pitch of your voice. Watch the video below:

Where can you find this gas?

Sulfur hexafluoride is used for eye surgery and ultrasound in hospitals. Also, it is widely used in the industry for various things. So, you could go to someone, who supplies gasses like these (Oxygen, Argon etc.) to hospitals and industries. Then you could request them to let you collect it in a small balloon (they won’t let you).
So, you could simply study science, work in laboratories and have such fun activities everyday (in moderation).

Side Note: Inhaling another non-toxic noble gas, Xenon, also does something similar. It is heavier than air so it makes your voice deep. At the same time, xenon will make your pockets extremely light.

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