In other words, birdsong is good for you, and in the pursuit of meaningful mindfulness, many are now turning to podcasts and apps to help identify birds and their choir of sounds, like Chirpomatic and Warblr — while Radio 4’s 90-second Tweet of the Day each weekday morning has become a popular ritualistic reset, with its calming tales of birds and birdsong. International Dawn Chorus Day — which this year falls on May 2nd — also celebrates nature's soaring symphony, described as “Audio Yoga” by the wildlife sound recordist Gary Moore.
Our passion for this sonic enrichment has even been captured on an album called Wake Up Calls(2020) by musician Cosmo Sheldrake, as part of a mission to highlight the loss of UK birdlife, with a playlist of songbird chatter revealing their unique identities, frequencies and rhythms. I like to believe the twittering in my garden is the birds saying thank you to me for feeding them, like an aural tonic to the human ear that makes me feel good about myself. Of course, birds trumpet, squeak and caw to attract a mate, and to call out if they are in distress, or communicate with their family members, and also to mark and defend their territory. Not all birdsong is soothing of course – think of crows and magpies – but who can doubt that skylarks and blackbirds give us that happiness fix, and in the depths of a chilly Winter the chirp of sparrows can make a gloomy day brighter.
Our love of these wild but feathered friends is deeply rooted in literature, poetry, music and mythology throughout history and popular culture, from Blake, Chaucer, Keats and Shakespeare, to Wordsworth, Shelley and the Beatles. Their song is often also connected to the threshold state between living, dying, beginning and ending. When I was a little girl, not long after my grandfather passed away, my mother and I were walking in the countryside, and with each footstep we were aware of the company of a curlew, with its long down-curved bill and loud whistled ‘cur-lee’ song. My grandfather was a teacher and Polish Scout leader, and the symbol on his traditional neckerchief was that of a curlew bird, so we found peace in believing his spirit was hopping along singing beside us.