When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.
~ Herman Hesse
Our young dog makes a mad dash out the back door to surprise the crowd at the bird feeder. The birds explode in a shower of feathers, and the squirrels scoot towards the closest trees for safety. Having accomplished her task, Rosie wanders the yard policing for strange smells and keeping an eye on the sky.
To our knowledge (she’s a rescue), Rosie has no bird dog lineage, but she has always been very aware of the sky above and its inhabitants. She watches the honking flights of geese lift from the nearby athletic fields to fly low over the neighborhood. She will chase off the Flickers and Doves that land in the lawn, and is particularly disapproving of the resident flock of ravens that periodically cascade through the tall trees surrounding our yard. They eye each other warily — she often barks if they caw too loudly or fly too aggressively close — and they have been known to gang up in nearby trees to tell her off.
The mix of vegetation in our yard works well for the local bird life. A variety of both deciduous and evergreen trees are scattered around the property, and shrubs define the fenced margins. The pear, crabapple and oak trees plus current, sand cherry and choke cherry shrubs provide food and shelter for the birds and squirrels, and draw insects that attract the carnivorous birds. An uncultured lawn provides open space for ground feeders as does the area below our two bird seed dispensers.
A truck drove by at the end of the street, and even with the windows closed, it was quite loud. Spending more time at home during the pandemic, I have become conscious of the ambient noise in my neighborhood. Sometimes there is shouting and laughing from kids playing — except during school days. Cars and motorcycles mumble as they leave for or return home from work or elsewhere, and as the holiday season approaches, there are always delivery trucks. Recently, there seems to be less airplane noise, except for media helicopters and the occasional military overflight. Some dogs bark (ours included) and, occasionally, we will hear heavy beats from a passing car’s music.
We don’t notice the human noise so much when it’s warm enough to open the windows. Then we can hear the chatter of the small birds (House Finch, Sparrow, Siskins, and others). We enjoy the coo/hoot of the doves and the jungle sound of the flicker. We relish the screech of the Blue Jay and Magpie as they claim dominance over the yard.
While the bird noises apparently keep our dog entertained, studies show that they are also good for us humans. Mary Jo DiLonardo quotes Professor Clinton Francis, “Walking in the woods boosts your well-being. Living near trees can help you live longer. Being around water can improve your mood.” Furthermore, “With the phantom chorus, we were able to demonstrate that natural sounds have a measurable effect on the quality of hikers’ experiences on the trail. That is, hearing nature seems to be important.”
Science journalist Jenny Morber writes, “Human-created noise is more than annoying. Decades of research has implicated it in a host of chronic health conditions, including low sleep quality and high blood pressure, as well as increased risk of heart attack or stroke, diabetes, and even cancer… Wildlife is affected too: Studies show that the auditory landscape is a key component of habitat, and human noise masks critical sounds. Animals listen for prey, predators, and territorial alarm calls, to locate group members, and find sexual partners.”
Professor Francis continues, “We know light pollution and noise pollution can threaten the health and well-being of humans, animals, and the environment. Researchers have long studied the impact on birds and how an overabundance of brightness and sound can impact their breeding, feeding, and migration behaviors.”
DiLonardo adds Francis’ solution for birds and humans alike, “We should do as much as we can to restore natural sound levels and lighting at night,” Francis suggests. “Unnecessary noise and light should be eliminated or minimized. Quiet road surfaces, use of more electric vehicles and use of vegetation and berms near roads could drastically reduce noise pollution. For lights, use of smart lighting technologies that only turn on when needed by a person would help restore natural darkness.”
Ambient silence, with just a breeze whispering in the trees and the birds singing their chorus … Sounds good to me.
Jenny Morber, Listening to Silence: Why We Must Protect the World’s Quiet Places, June 30, 2020, YaleEnvironment360
Mary Jo DiLonardo, Are Birds the Reason You Feel Good in Nature? December 21, 2020, TreeHugger
Mary Jo DiLonardo, How Unnatural Light and Noise Affect Birds, November 12, 2020, TreeHugger
Steve Tarlton, Can You Hear Me Now? June 25, 2020, Writes of Nature