You can probably understand what chickadees are saying. Kind of.

You, too, can speak chickadee. Or chickadese. Or whatever you call the language chickadees speak.

We should be clear, here. You can’t communicate using specific terms with a chickadee. You couldn’t say, “Hey, chickadee, can you please go to the local market and pick me up a six-pack of soda,” even if you felt pretty sure about which grunts and growls sounded most like “market” or “soda.”

(Chickadees don’t know what soda is. And good for them — soda’s all sugar, anyway.)

What we’re saying is that psychologists and biologists have determined that humans are actually pretty tuned into the emotions behind the noises animals make. Without any formal language classes, we can pick up on how many animals — including the Maine state bird — are feeling based on the pitch and intonation of their calls.

You may not consciously realize it, but you can probably tell when your backyard songbirds are alarmed or charmed. Other animals whose sounds we’re pretty fluent in include giant pandas, certain kinds of frogs, African bush elephants, alligators and even pigs.

Here are some news stories that are all presented in a human language for easier reading.

What we’re talking about

Portland’s really big organ was born of one of the city’s great fires. It was a cold, windy night in 1908 when City Hall burned down, for the second time in 42 years. The building put up in its place opened 105 years ago today and contains the second largest organ in the world, BDN’s Troy R. Bennett reports. But that story of how the mighty Kotzschmar organ came to our city starts back before the Civil War.

Close to 1,500 people rallied for racial justice in Portland on Sunday. The gathering near the Back Cove came a day after Mainers joined about 40,000 people in Boston to protest against a controversial rally that the organizers said was for free speech but opponents said was really about hate speech. “We will never go back to the days when racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism were considered normal and acceptable,”  Rabbi Erica Asch of Temple Beth El told Maine Public Sunday.

“It’s too difficult to say” if Trump will be the GOP’s 2020 nominee, Sen. Susan Collins told MSNBC during an interview in Maine today. Even if that response was just a parry of a politically loaded question, BDN’s Michael Shepherd writes, it comes as the president is struggling with approval ratings under 40 percent and facing stiff blowback from both Republicans and Democrats who saw equivocation in his response to white hate groups marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Collins also said that she still has not decided whether she’ll run for governor and is “weighing where I can do the most good for the people of Maine.”

Otto Pizza on burned Sunday morning. A fire in the popular pizza joint’s Congress Street location spread from a pipe into an air vent before being stopped by the restaurant’s sprinkler system. Although the fire was quickly extinguished and no one was hurt, there was enough damage that the pizza place will be closed for several days.

Kegs and Issues, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce’s new speaker series, will be hosting Lucas St. Clair at Portland House of Music on Sept. 26 for a discussion of his successful push for the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The inaugural event in the series will start at 4:30 p.m.

Tweet of the day

In case you somehow missed the eclipse today, the moon took to twitter.

The Big Idea

When you wash your dishes, you’re basically smearing bacteria all over them. And there’s nothing you can do about it. This is assuming you use a sponge. A team of German scientists is the latest to catalog all the bacteria crawling on your average kitchen sponge, and went so far as to find that cleaning your sponge is basically pointless, doing little more than slightly rearranging which bacteria is living on the squishy cleaning tool. So if you want your dishes clean at a microbiological level, you’re going to have to get a totally new sponge every week or so.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Jake Bleiberg at, or tweet @JZBleiberg.

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