The urban nightingale
It is doubtful that a nightingale ever really sang in London's Berkeley Square. However, people in UK cities regularly report hearing a 'nightingale' in their suburbs. The nightingale is a scarce bird of the woods and difficult to see even there. It is unlikely that it ever sings in cities. What most people have heard is the familiar robin (above). Robins sing all night long in some areas, though it is a relatively new phenomenon. The birds usually sing near street lights, apparently fooled into thinking it is daylight!
There are many other creatures abroad at night, whose sounds sometimes get reported as paranormal. Foxes produce all sorts of odd noises (right) and are common in urban areas. Badgers are found in some suburbs of London and other cities. Rather more common are hedgehogs that amble around gardens in the dark making odd snuffling noises.
On ASSAP vigils, crows have been heard to call all night, even though they are normally only do it by day. Gulls, too, are prone to calling all night when they feel like it. Again, it is possible that the extensive illumination of cities at night makes them more active than they might otherwise be.
Nature, nature everywhere
Many of us live in towns and cities and hardly ever notice nature. And yet, despite the concrete, asphalt and brick, it is still there. Perhaps we don't notice it because, unconsciously, we think it belongs in the countryside (see left).
Hearing scratching sounds in your house is more often rodents, insects, bats, dormice, nesting birds or even squirrels than paranormal activity. It can sound much louder at night and often reacts to knocking on walls where the sound is loudest. Try a pest control company before you call paranormal investigators. Please be aware, however, that most species of bird and bats are protected by law (in the UK, at least).
In the UK, people are sometimes woken up in the middle of the night (particularly in spring) by a blood curdling scream. It can sound like something out of a horror film. If you dare look out of your window, the most likely thing you will see is a fox! Foxes are best known for their bark which is quite distinctive once you recognise it. But the scream always sounds spectacularly horrific. Urban foxes are so common and bold that it is easier to see these animals in cities than in the countryside.
Foxes will move objects around gardens in the night! If you are finding smallish things moving around in your garden at night, or even vanishing completely, ask yourself if you've ever seen foxes nearby.
People associate ghosts with moaning because of ghosts stories and Hollywood. In fact, there are very few reports of moaning in real haunting cases. The most frequent cause of moaning is the wind. This may sound obvious but really spooky moaning is only heard occasionally. That's because it needs to come from a particular direction, be of a certain strength and interact with specific objects to sound really eerie. So, due to the vagaries of the weather, you may only hear it a few times a year, if ever. As a result, it comes as a surprise (or even a shock) on the rare occasions when it happens.
People have frequently reported spooky hissing sounds from old, often abandoned, buildings. The noises can be blood curdling and sometimes react to human presence. The cause is usually found to Barn Owls. These owls prefer lonely buildings away from people and disturbance. When seen flying at night, often in car headlights on a lonely country road, they can appear startlingly, dazzlingly white. This also leads to reports of encounters with the strange beings. Barn Owls, though fairly rare, occur throughout most of the world.
OK, this isn't exactly a natural sound but then, it's not exactly paranormal either. It is particularly important in the new house effect.
On one ASSAP investigation there was a large room where various people had reported hearing whispering. The words couldn't quite be made out but it certainly sounded like people whispering.
On a later vigil, investigators heard the whispering too, in the quiet of the night. It became obvious, however, that the sound was made by water flowing through a distant pipe. The faint, disjointed hissing had enough variations in it to sound like people whispering. It really did sound like words but none could ever be made out. That's because, of course there were no actual words, just water running turbulently through a pipe. The effect stopped as soon as the water stopped flowing.
A similar effect has been heard from an electric fan. The fan, like the water, did not run entirely smoothly. It could, sometimes, sound like people talking just under the whirr of the fan.
In these cases we seem to have an aural equivalent of seeing 'faces' in random patterns. Just as our visual systems are programmed to see faces, so our aural pathways hear voices, even when they're not there.
The water in the pipe (and the air around the fan) were both flowing turbulently. It is not like white noise, which is a tediously predictable hissing sound. Instead, there are constant unpredictable changes, some of which can sound like vocal consonants. This chaotic (as opposed to random) sound seems to be good at fooling our senses into hearing whispering that is not there.
© Maurice Townsend 2007