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© Lora Denis
The COVID-19-related restrictions on gatherings and movement have been challenging for my family, but they have also had a beneficial effect on our soundscape. With fewer airline flights and vehicles on the road, and most workers conducting business from home, the sounds of industry have made way for the sounds of nature.
I noticed the change in outdoor noise during a pre-dawn, physically distanced jog through my Toronto neighbourhood. Though always quieter at this time than later in the day, my neighbourhood is rarely still, and I can often hear the sounds of daily life while I jog. The subterranean rumble of subway trains gearing up for the morning rush; the drone of drivers embarking on their daily commutes; and the clamour emanating from nearby construction sites.
Much of that commotion has been replaced by the melodic warbling of robins, cardinals and finches. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and my family and I had planned to celebrate by camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park to witness the spring bird migration.
The pandemic and ensuing lockdown have scuttled our camping plans, but thankfully not our birding plans. I recently found the Peterson Field Guides: Birding by Ear CDs I received several birthdays ago, and am looking forward to learning bird songs in the company of my young daughter in the coming weeks. As the spring migration progresses and our identification skills expand, my daughter and I will be able to bird from the safety of our backyard, unimpeded by the usual aural litter of our city environment.
There is increasing evidence that human-made noise harms wildlife. The din created by highway and recreational vehicles disrupts communication between individual animals and can hinder the ability of many species to find prey or establish a territory. The deleterious effects of noise on humans – sleep disturbance, hearing loss, stress, and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes – is well documented. It is reasonable to assume that birds, amphibians, mammals and fish suffer these physiological effects as well.
People across the world have noticed the near-immediate reduction in human noise that the widespread lockdowns have caused and the subsequent increase in the audible prominence of other species. From Boston to Rome to Wuhan, city dwellers are marvelling at the array of songbirds they never knew shared their environment. As an inhabitant of Wuhan wrote on Facebook during that city’s quarantine, “I used to think there weren’t really birds in Wuhan… I now know they were just muted and crowded out by the traffic and people”.
Wildlife is having a well deserved moment right now. My daughter and I invite you to share that moment by joining our birding efforts. Do a backyard big year if you have the outdoor space or simply listen for migratory birds from the open window of your apartment. Even during this difficult time, there is much to celebrate on Earth Day.
I live near a very busy 4-lane street and since Covid-19 restrictions my husband and I have enjoyed the wonderful silence! No traffic, few buses and no emergency sirens – NO sirens! Now, we can hear all our birds, and enjoy our daily walk in areas we had to avoid due to significant exhaust fumes. We have even noticed a new clarity to the sky – normal clouds, vivid blueness. Personally, I dread the return to ‘normal’.
The sounds of nature is wonderful. I live in the country far from the city and love it. I am a senior and have been doing my part making mask and ear protectors. Sorry so many have lost their life to the virus and the shooting in Nova Scotia. However we need to keep in mind it is not the gun but the person behind it that is dangerous. If not a gun it would be something else.
We have wild turkeys, robins, nut hatches, chicka dees, blue jays and other birds all winter. In the summer we get other kinds plus we hear the loons on the lake and the mud hen/bittern. A lovely sound for sure. Hope everyone is keeping well. We have been self isolated since the 16 of March. No visitors and not visiting. Order my groceries on line and do curb side pick up.
I enjoy all the comments.
All the best to everyone.
We are encouraged to read everyone’s comments! It’s clear that despite the challenges from the COVID-19 lockdown, we all share a feeling of appreciation and gratitude towards nature and the new ways in which wildlife are making their presence known.
And Like Carol mentioned, hopefully after the pandemic is over, we will all have a better understanding on how to coexist and peacefully inhabit the same spaces as non-human animals. We are all connected, so I believe our work will be to find the balance between resuming our regular lives while maintaining a reciprocal relationship with Mother Earth.
And perhaps one way we could do this, is by following the teachings of Indigenous author and Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer says: “Knowing that you love the Earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the Earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”
In my Professional life I am involved in acoustic assessments. Two weekends ago I was amazed at the silence in my suburban backyard at 7pm. I grabbed one of my sound analyzers and recorded a noise level of 28.8 dBA. I have measured the noise level in my yard on many occasions in the past and it normally ranges between 43 and 55 dBA depending on the time of day. I can’t recall ever measuring an outdoor noise level this low. Silence is golden!
Another highlight, it is great to make audio recordings of the birds in your area without the background noise that is usually present. Grab you Iphones and use your memo recording app to record the bird life in your neighbourhood. You may never get another chance to make such clear and amazing recordings.
Last weekend as my husband and I took our dawn walk to the CNE grounds in Toronto we not only saw Hermit Thrushes, but heard 2 singing. Have seen them many times in the past during migration but have never heard them sing here before! What a treat.
The increased silencing of our busy lives and the apparent proliferation of nature reminds me of a quote I have used for years: ‘Humans need nature to exist but Nature does not need humans to exist”. I think is what we are seeing right now.
Enduring this horrible pandemic is extremely hard on every human being, but with it comes something we don’t see or hear too often and that is “the sounds of nature” right in our own backyard. Let’s hope that from this devastating COVID-19 we can come away with a better understanding of our wildlife ‘needs’ and give them a little more space than we’ve given them in the past.
These days we see more birds some we have not seen in the area before. This all reminds us of living in the country on a gravel road far away from neighbours and road traffic. It is beautiful, serene It is sad that it takes something like this pandemic to make us realize what we have. The air will be sweeter as the weather warms.
I have noticed that the air in my Etobicoke neighbourhood seems to be fresher, the skies clearer, and I no longer hear the din of cars on the Gardiner. My back yard is full of birds of all sorts (of course, I do feed them).
I love reading these sorts of articles. Thanks so much for providing them.
I’m fortunate to live outside a small city, where there are fewer disturbances and many opportunities to observe and hear wildlife, and clear skies to view the stars. One of the bonuses of Covid-19 is the quieting of our noisy world. There’s nothing sweeter than spring birdsong and the loud chorus of spring peepers. Many of us now have time, that rare and precious commodity, to stop, look and listen to nature outside our windows.
It’s anything but silent here in spring. The spring peepers and wood frogs sing at night. And a multitude of birds sing during the day. There are snapping turtles, painted turtles, great horned owls, wild turkeys, pheasants, coyotes, deer…..I could go on.
I live in a rural setting and keep my birdfeeders full so I can enjoy the songbirds……..the crows…not so much….but last night I heard a loon for the first time this season and it lifted my heart!
how beautiful that nature is enjoying our absence..