The Night Chorus

Coqui frogs say their name. That’s how they got it. The cry is  a high-pitched two-note trill: “Co-ki? Co-ki?” or, sometimes, it sounds like a woman saying, “Bobby? Bobby?”  Some coqui frogs sing three notes instead of two. If I didn’t know they were frogs, I would swear these are small birds singing.

Years ago, when I first visited Linda in Hawaii, there were no coqui frogs in her town and the nights were quiet until the birds started up an hour before dawn. One evening we went to an event at the Hilo Palace. After it ended and we walked to the car, Peter stopped us and we listened for a moment to one lone coqui, singing his two-note love call. I remembered thinking that one coqui was not going to find love that night.

Now, at dusk, the air around her house rings with the sound of them all night. It’s like music. Towards dawn they fall silent, ceding the air to the birds.

Coqui is a hitch-hiker to the island chain; an introduced species originally from Puerto Rico. They have no native predators in Hawaii. They probably came in on plants. Linda doesn’t understand why they are so disliked. “They eat insects,” she says, “Insects nobody likes.” (Like mosquitoes.) she thinks people want to eradicate them because of their singing. I think it’s more complicated than that. Like the imported gecko, the coqui competes with native frogs for food and habitat. Coqui are prolific, and will eventually win this population race.

I didn’t mind the eternal chorus of frogs. I’ve stayed at hotels near airports and slept through irritating noises; singing frogs are not a problem. When we went to the  Ka’u district, where there are no coqui yet, I remembered the subtler sounds of night on the islands; the rush of the surf, the rattle of palm fronds. I don’t mind the frogs; I missed the quiet.

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