Sometimes it takes tuning in the dial and looking up to discover that the perfect antidote to solastalgia is right in your own backyard.
Dr. Christopher Clark of the Cornell Bioacoustics research program says, in the film Racing Extinction that “the whole world is singing, clicking and grinding, whistling and thumping but we’ve stopped listening”
Some of the world’s most beautiful vocalists are of course birds. But, I have to be honest, while a great lover of animals, even the creepy crawly kind-I never really got the whole bird thing growing up.
Once a year my junior school principal Ms Forster used to take us little ones on a bird watching field trips around the school playground. She’d point out, a crow here, a sparrow there, but more often than not it was the introduced Indian minor who showed up - a brown and black bird with slightly intimidating yellow eyes -who was clearly the town bully when it came to kicking the locals out. I was fairly nonplussed by these excursions.
My dad was a paper sculpture illustrator and could almost bring birds to life with his incredible artistic talents, he’d share with me books full of bird reference, show me his favourites and take umpteen pictures of any and all manner of birds we encountered on our nature walks or holidays-but still, I just didn’t get it.
In fact, I really didn’t’ get it till I moved back to Australia and was overwhelmed by the daily cacophony of suburban dinosaur decedents. The waddle of the magpie, the screech of the rainbow lorikeet and of course the laugh of the kookaburra were sounds that before, I’d never given a second thought to, but now, I found myself desperate to have them call to me. Even the cooing of pigeons-those dubbed-flying rats by so many now touch a piece of my soul. Somehow, I went from indifference to almost obsession.
So, what happened?. I guess I just didn’t hear what was there for the listening and I was so focused on what was happening at eye level that I never really looked up. And when I came back to Australia, the birds, as anyone who’s visited the country knows, simply refused to allow my deafness.
So, I started not just to listen them, and discovered not just uniqueness in each species but of course in individuals as well. Take the kookaburra for instance, an iconic Australian bird. A kingfisher in fact with a beautiful brown, white and blue plume and a propensity to cannibalism in the nest. We have two resident ‘kookies’ who come for a visit almost every morning, happy to perch on the clothes line and keep an eye out for their frenemies- the currawongs. Each has its own unique personality and character, one shyer, the other bold and curious. When I’ve rescued kookaburras as a volunteer at my local wildlife organization, they stay as still as a statue, a defence mechanism to be sure, and that beautiful iconic laugh is not to be heard., but boy, whether it’s to attract mates, warn off interlopers or wake up sleepy heads- when a kookie laughs, the world laughs with her.
There’s a wonderful book by Niall Edworthy called Bald Coot and Screaming Loon, which shares all kinds of bird facts, like how it takes 120 hummingbird eggs to match the weight of a hen’s egg (p.33), or that it would take 40 minutes to boil and ostrich egg. Edworthy also shares stats on extinction rates and superstitions like how two blackbirds together are a good omen but that “you’ll be doomed if an owl calls your name” (p89). It’s not his only book of bird facts and I’d imagine, given the brilliance of this Class Aves that he might have a few more up his sleeve.
Now, every morning I wake up to the sound of birds-well actually I usually wake up to the sound of cars, but if I push through that noise, tune in on the dial-over to the bird channel-I’ll start hearing that magnificent symphony of nature. And I’ll begin the day in gratitude.
It might seem like it’s getting more difficult to find our feathers friends in urban environments these days, but they’re around. Whether crow or cockatoo, pigeon or parrot, each has their own song to sing, and they offer us, free of charge- the perfect antidote to solistalgia.
So Maybe tomorrow you could wake up that little bit earlier, creep outside, or open a window, tune in and listen for the calls of the morning. I don’t know whose song you’ll be graced with, but I do know-that it will be the most rewarding sound you’ll hear all day.