The sound of birds singing amazes me still. You have to understand, I’ve been legally deaf most of my life. Hearing aids helped, but only to a point. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to do most anything I’ve wanted to do despite my poor hearing. Even so, until I was nearly 30 the sound of birds singing was all but absent from my world.
Then a miracle.
I got a cochlear implant.
This marvel of technology and medicine allowed me to hear the birds sing and so much more. I feel blessed to have this, and now each spring abounds with these beautiful symphonies. I can hear them just outside my window as I write. And though I’ve heard the birds sing for several years now, whenever they start it always makes me turn my head and smile.
These are amazing sounds, and I wanted to know more about them. Why do birds sing at all?
It turns out it’s for much the same reason as people do. They sing shorter calls, I learned, to communicate to one another, just as we talk. But the real singing is more impressive. Half of the world’s 10,000 species of birds are songbirds. Each of those 5000 varieties with their own unique style and voice.
Astonishingly, these songs are learned, not instinctual. The songs are passed from one generation to another in the same way ours are. A single species of bird can have the same song in many variations- just as Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr. can both sing “It Had to Be You” but make it their own.
It turns out the vast majority of bird songs are love songs, which is true of our music as well. In most places the males do most of the singing. Their ballads serenade the females each spring, and the boys each try to outdo one another. They’re showing off.
In the tropics it’s the ladies who start the song. The boys join them in a beautiful duet, until the two become as close as their songs are. What a lovely thing.
These melodies are not as simple as they may sometimes sound. The birds are singing with such might and sophistication it is more akin to fine opera than pop. The yard outside my window is the New York Metropolitan of nature. Amazing.
I only mention all of this because I suspect the singing birds have become a sort of background noise to many of you. When you go without something it increases your appreciation for it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say- and the songbirds will always be special to me.
I count myself lucky that I can’t help but notice the birds singing as I do.
I hope you do the same.