Night Sounds of the Pleistocene

Sometimes before I fall asleep, I imagine what summer nights sounded like during the Pleistocene.  I imagine I’m secure in an adobe brick home located in what today is Elbert County, Georgia but 36,000 years ago before there were any  manmade sounds in this part of the world. I’d leave the window open and probably have a difficult time falling asleep because of all the nocturnal activities occurring in the wilderness outside.  I’d almost certainly hear the constant calls of the chuck-wills-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis).  This bird along with whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferus) and common nighthawks (Chordeilis minor) make up America’s contribution to the nightjar family.  These ground nesting birds were likely very common during most of the Pleistocene, thanks to the abundance of large predators such as wolves and big cats.  The larger carnivores reduced populations of smaller predators that might prey on eggs and nestlings.  Without the presence of larger carnivores, the populations of raccoons, foxes, skunks, and possums become abundant.  Nevertheless, chuck-wills-widows have their own fascinating defense mechanisms.  When disturbed they can move their eggs to a new location by carrying them in their mouths.  They are also capable of moving nestlings by carrying them between their legs.

A mouth big enough to swallow sparrows whole!

A Chuck-Wills-Widow’s mouth.  They mostly catch flying insects such as beetles and moths in their huge mouths but occasionally they swallow bats, hummingbirds, wrens, warblers, and sparrows; even actively pursuing these smaller birds.

In ranges where the 3 species of nightjars overlap, they partition habitat.  Chuck-wills-widows prefer low woods but hunt in small openings; Whip-poor-wills live in upland woods but hunt in fields or pastures; and common nighthawks live and hunt in open spaces.

Link to the call of a chuck-wills-widow.

I’d also be sure to hear owls, perhaps even the unknown extinct species only known from 2 ankles and 3 lower bills found at the Kingston Saltpeter Cave and Ladds fossil sites (See:

Link to barred owl calls.

I’d probably hear at least 1 species of large cat roar or perhaps a cougar scream.  Maybe I’d discover what a saber-tooth cat vocalization sounded like.

Link to a jaguar roar.

Of course, I’d probably hear dire wolves howling.  They probably sounded just like timber wolves but who knows?

Link to wolf howls.

I might hear a herd of proboscideans trumpeting.  The Asian elephant is the closest living relative of the extinct Columbian mammoth.  Click on the link below and listen to the recording of the Asian elephant–that might be what a mammoth sounded like. .

After about an hour of listening to those sounds, I’d probably need to shut the window, so I could fall asleep in relative silence.

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