Bird song is a delight. However, many birds are now waking up at midnight and starting to sing, due to light pollution confusing them into thinking it’s later than it is. Report broken street lamps to Fix My Street (ask your council to use wildlife-friendly lighting).
Don’t play the songs of other birds, as it can confuse them and attract predators. If attracting birds to your garden, make gardens safe for pets (to know plants, mulches and other items to avoid) and use safe humane methods of slug/snail deterrence. Never face indoor foliage to gardens, to help stop birds flying into windows.
Birdsong in a Time of Silence is the story of how the pandemic lockdown awakened people’s ears to the sounds of birds around us. This lyrical uplifting reflection portrays blackbirds (early spring singers) other birds, and also covers the science of how birds sing, and their choice of nest.
A Year of Birdsong is by Dominic Couzens who listens to birds around the world, each week of the year. All the stories are accompanied by illustrations from award-winning artist Madeleine Floyd and a QR code so you can listen to the songs, while you read.
The Nightingale is another fantastic book by musician Sam Lee, whose studies of both music and song means he’s an expert at knowing how their songs have inspired creativity through the years. This guide to the most famed birdsong singer, includes a nod to Persian poetry and of course the song about the nightgale who sang in Berkeley Square.
Wild Air: In Search of Birdsong is a book about eight birds and their songs, all living in different habitats. Inspired by memories of his granny who listened to birdsong (and what she would relay to her father – the naturalist Seton Gordon), the author writes of a nightjar’s strange churring song on a health in southern England to a lapwing displaying over the machair in the Outer Hebrides.
Our Songbirds is a beautiful and funny pop-art guide by Shropshire artist and ornithologist Matt Sewell, who offers lovely watercolours and quirky descriptions of songbirds, one for each week of the year. ‘The peewit sings the blues and the bittern fills his neck like a tweed pair of bellows’.
take time to listen to sounds of nature
Whether it’s birdsong in the garden or the distant sound of a howling wolf, many creatures make a sound. And so do pets (the purr of a cat) and nature (the trickle of a stream, the rustle of breeze in the trees). When writer George Michelsen Foy clamped his ears to his head one day, when two trains screeched into a New York subway station at once, he went off round the world to find the world’s quietest place. It wasn’t Antarctica (the screen of an albatross is deafening). But it was a lab in mid-west USA where you would go inside. And it was so quiet that he could hear the sound of his heart beating and even the sound of his scalp moving across his head. He did not like it – and realised that actually we are not searching for absolute silence, rather quiet nice sounds that relax us.
Whales also sing to each other, sometimes across hundreds of miles. Again, pollution is harming this (particularly noise pollution from ships). Just after the pandemic, fishermen were mystified why a pod of orcas (killer whales) were repeatedly ramming boats, something they had never done before. Experts believe it was because they got so used to the peace and quiet, they didn’t like it when all the noise and commotion of fishing vessels returned.
Little Whale is a children’s book on the mesmerising whale song that can be heard over thousands of miles, and also looks at relationships within the pods and huge annual migrations. It also covers how whales manage to jump high out of the water, despite being the biggest mammals.
Listen Up! is a wonderful book looking at how the sounds of nature are being drowned out for the clamour of humans, and that’s not good for people, animals or the planet. Every living thing emits sound (birds sing, whales whistle, streams burble and trees pop and fizzle). Young readers are now introduced to all the sounds of the natural world, from the first Big Bang to the complex soundscapes of the rainforests.
Readers will also discover how the invasion of human sounds (from aeroplanes, traffic and machines) is threatening survival of species that have adapted to their habitats over thousands of years. Conserving the sounds of nature is an important part of protecting the planet’s biodiversity and the future of our natural world. Stephen Aitken is a biologist, artist and science writer. He is co-founder of Biodiversity Conservancy Internation and lives in Ottawa, Canada.