Although not an experienced birder, I would call myself a proponent of ornitherapy; it makes me happy and relaxed to see and hear birds around me. I also have the good fortune to live in a country with not only a great number of birds (both species and individuals), but also an area that’s remote enough to have fairly little noise pollution. So bottom line, I hear birds all the time. In fact, at the times when they’re quiet for some reason, it feels eerily strange.
So, despite the unprecedented challenges people are currently facing around the world, I hope that occasionally there’s a moment to at least open the window and listen for the birds.
The chance to put biodiversity and the environment at the heart of recovery from the pandemic should not be squandered
One night in April, birdwatchers from around Britain stepped outside their doors and listened intently to something most of them had never experienced before: the fluting, mysterious, melancholy cry of the common scoter on the wing.
Flocks of these dusky sea ducks were beating their way over Britain on their long migratory journey towards their Arctic breeding grounds, easily audible to the naked ear. The first great wave was heard on the Wirral before being picked up in the Peak District, and at last by the Humber. A second wave was made out as flocks made their way along the line of Hadrian’s wall, from the Solway Firth in the west to Northumberland in the east. A third wave flew above listeners from the Severn estuary to the Wash. The birds were heard in urban Blackburn, Stalybridge, Bristol and London. It was thanks to social media that so many listeners were alert to the birds’ progress – and thanks to the silence of lockdown that they could be heard.
With few planes in the sky and vehicles on the roads to muffle its sound, birdsong has been ringing out loud and clear. It was a decade ago that the skies were anything like this quiet, when flights were grounded after the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted. The last time traffic levels were so low was the early 1970s.
Hearing birdsong with such clarity has become for many a small joy and a valuable mental health boost during lockdown.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says there has been a spike in the appetite to learn about garden birdsong. Helpful resources abound, from the RSPB’s online identifier to Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s wonderfully poetic guide to the dawn chorus, describing the “Wagnerian grandeur” of the mistle thrush’s song and the robin’s “tone of introspection and understated tragedy”.
Does it have to be that way?
Read the entire opinion piece here.