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….?