I Heard a Bird (I Think)

I Heard A Bird

A lovely bird was flying by,

I called him to my side,

And asked him to sing alone for me

And then I told him why.

When you sit high up in trees,

I cannot hear you singing,

And if, by chance, I hear a bit,

I can’t tell where you’re perching.”

He looked me in the eye, he did,

Then hopped on my outstretched hand,

He opened up his birdie lips,

And from his birdie throat –

Came every sound I’d never heard

A shower of thrilling notes.


I love birds, all birds.  Mind you, not enough to stand in an ice-cold marsh at the crack of dawn with a camouflage hat and binoculars looking for a rare whatchamacallit. I simply like birds – they’re pretty and they make me happy.

I have a particular soft spot for crows and seagulls. Yes, I know they’re not especially good looking or sweet-sounding, and none of the great poets wrote stuff like Ode to a Crow or I Know Why the Caged Seagull Sings. But when I was growing up, they were the only birds I could hear. I could identify robins, cardinals, blue jays and sparrows, but I couldn’t really hear them, except for occasional noisy chatter. But I clearly heard the cawing of crows and the screeching of gulls – and so I love them. They were there for me, you know?

The high-frequency cochlear hair cells of people with sensory hearing loss are usually toast, kaput.  And that’s unfortunate, because this is the range in which birdies make their music; the average frequency of the songbirds is about 4,000 Hz, approximately the same pitch as the highest note of a piano. Many birds (and most insects) are even higher. (An easier bird to hear, although not through its song, is the woodpecker who hammers away at the telephone pole across the street. I always laugh at him – just the joy of seeing a bird in action and because the name ‘woodpecker’ has always struck me funny.)

The day I got my first hearing aid, my personal soundscape changed. Sound – horrible, abusive sound – assaulted me from all angles, driving me just short of nuts. A few days into my becoming a hearing aid user, my boyfriend and I went for a walk in the ravine – mostly for a break from the stress of the everyday noise. In the park, I heard a beautiful sound, a constant song, from a creature of the natural world. ‘What bird is that?’ I asked my friend. “‘Not a bird, Gael, crickets.” Crickets joined crows and seagulls on my list of favourite noise-makers.

But it wasn’t until I got bilateral, in-the-ear hearing aids at age 40 that I was able to hear birds better and on a girlfriends’ getaway spa trip to the Atlantic coast, I started to appreciate their beauty more deeply. We had a fabulous week of daily hikes, watching glorious Atlantic seabirds such as gannets, terns and puffins.  On that trip, we briefly joined the ranks of the estimated 40 million plus birdwatchers in North America.

But, there are challenges in being a hard of hearing birdwatcher.  Along with having to hear the birds, real birders also want to see them, so that they can be identified (and possibly added to their personal birding life-list, which appears to be an obsession with birders).  So, if I can’t hear a bird, it would help a lot if I could see it. But in order to see it, I have to know where it is – and most people use their hearing to locate the sound!  Do you see the problem here?

I’m not obsessed – I just want to know where the damn bird is, or what it is! Is that too much to ask!?  Sometimes I’ll hear a bird and look excitedly up in the tree, only to be told I’m looking up the wrong tree. It still amazes me that people can pinpoint where a bird is sitting –  75 feet up on an itty-bitty, leaf-covered, branch!  In order for me to locate it, the same bird would have to fall dead out of the tree and land splat on my head.

Recently I wrote, tongue in cheek, about how my sense of smell may be particularly sharp in compensation for diminished hearing. It was this same theory that led a birder-friend to suggest that since I cannot hear the birds, and have trouble seeing them, perhaps I could study the various bird-poops, and learn to identify birds by sniffing their nests and ground deposits.

I don’t like birds that much.  Here are some better ways for people with a hearing loss to enjoy birds :

1. An Alberta friend of mine, who often goes birding with a guided group, uses an FM system. The leader or instructor wears the transmitter and she uses the FM with her hearing aids.

2. Familiarize yourself with various bird sounds – there are many DVDs and CDs that you can listen to before going out to hear the real thing.

3. If you’re serious about birding, consider a device that digitizes sounds and brings them to an accessible frequency. One example is the SongFinder, a device used by bird enthusiasts who suffer from high-frequency hearing loss and who are unable to hear high-pitched bird songs in their natural surroundings.  (Disclaimer: I have not tried this product, but include it for information purpose sonly.)

4. There are many birding internet sites, such as www.earbirding.com, which contains a blog or two about bird watching with hearing loss.

5. Finally, I figured there must be a smartphone ‘app’ that identifies a birdsong.  Apparently, it’s a very difficult app to create, but some will be coming in 2013.

This summer, my favorite time of day has been early morning, sitting with a coffe on my front veranda, listening to the cardinals call out from the tree on my front lawn. At least, I think that’s where they’re sitting….and maybe it was a robin….?

About Gael Hannan

The Better HearingConsumer addresses the personal experience of living with hearing loss. Editor Gael Hannan and her occasional guest bloggers explore every corner of the hearing loss life with humor and poignancy. Comment Policy   Gael Hannan, Editor Gael Hannan is an author, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog at the Better Hearing Consumer, which has a passionate international following,Gael has written two acclaimed books, “The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss”and “Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss”, written with Shari Eberts. She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work that advocates for individuals to become more knowledgeable and successful at dealing with their hearing loss and a more inclusive society for them to live in. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, Canada. Books and other media Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss. Written with Shari Eberts and available anywhere books are sold. The Way I Hear It: A Life With Hearing Loss. Available through online bookstores. Unheard Voices, DVD, vignettes from the hearing loss life. Contact Gael Hannan to order.


  1. Thanks for sharing this information! I love the birds too and they are among Mother Nature’s most beautiful creations :) I’m thankful my hearing aids allow me to hear their music. Very nice perspective, Gael.

  2. In Sask. where I live there are so many birds and they sing their hearts out. People who can hear perfectly often complain about their “noise”. I do hear them now with my cochlear implants but still have a problem locating them. One thing I never do is complain about their music.

  3. I have a friend that always wants to identify the bird by name and gets frustrated that I do not really care. I just want to find it and hear it and that is good enough for me. Thanks for youyr comments. From another HOH

  4. Gael,

    I also am so deaf that I could not hear bird calling except for seagulls and crows. Thanks for that reminder.

    I am now a bilateral CI recipient after years of wearing hearing aids.
    The CI’s allow me to hear birds. I can now identify the bird call of a cardinal, robin and a blue jay!

    I think birds are God’s symphony.

  5. Reading this represented quite amazing timing for me… last night I was able to distinguish crickets for the first time ever! (I am 50+) Like Gael, my favourite birds were crows and seagulls, to which I also add mourning doves. The sound of the latter has such a calming effect. I wear a hearing aid (right) and a C.I. (left). The C.I. is new (turned on in Dec.). It has been a lot of fun. Last night, it was quiet in my backyard. I left the dog out the patio door, and stood on my deck. And then I distinctly heard the crickets! I had heard them before as part of the background cacophony that I could not quite pick out (people told me I was hearing crickets, but I didn’t really ‘get it’ then), but last night, in the quiet of a windless night, I heard them – truly. A magical moment that made me feel part of the universe in a very intimate way.

  6. The other night, I was sitting outside with my hearing aids on when suddenly I heard and felt the vibration of crickets and birds chirping. Just out of curiosity to see if I could hear anything, I took the hearing aid out of my right ear and faintly heard the noise. Then I took the other hearing aid out and heard nothing. Hearing loss is a crazy thing.


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