Mariton: Those Ears

April 29, 2016

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager.  Photos by Carole Mebus.

Eastern Towhee. "Drink your teeeee."

Eastern Towhee. “Drink your teeeee.”

When it comes to birding, I am really attracted to warblers. I started out like most people as a visual birder using my eyes.  When I discovered warblers I slowly became an auditory birder.  I enjoy the challenge of being able to recognize bird songs.  Birding by ear has its advantages.  Bill R., one of the people I bird with, said something that really stuck with me.  “When you learn to bird by ear, it takes your appreciation of nature to a whole new level.”   I know exactly what he means.  Even if you don’t know all of the bird songs, once you start learning them, you start hearing the differences.  When you start hearing the differences, you become aware of all the different species (and numbers) of birds that are around you – even if you can’t see them, or don’t know whose song you are hearing.

Indigo Bunting. "Fire, fires, where? where? here, here."

Indigo Bunting. “Fire, fire, where? where? here, here.”

You take the ability to hear the differences (even if you can’t identify the bird) wherever you go. Eventually, you can’t take a walk without being aware of the birds around you, and that is what raises your appreciation for any nature outing.  I can be pulling invasive plants or working on trails and hearing the birds around me makes the time more special.  Because I know most of the local birds by their song, I don’t need to see them to know they are there.  When I go to new areas with new birds I enjoy my time more because I hear all the different birds singing around me.  You even hear bird songs in movies.

Worm-eating Warbler.

Worm-eating Warbler.

So, here is the rub. As I (and the people I bird with) age we lose certain notes and frequencies.  The good thing is you don’t know you can’t hear the Worm-eating Warbler anymore until some wise guy points it out.  I have been pretty lucky so far (I think), but I know that eventually I will lose certain registers.

I was lucky; I dropped out of college for a couple years and worked in construction with my Dad. When I resumed my studies and sat in a classroom I realized immediately that I had lost some hearing.  I was still working on weekends, so I became very strict about always wearing hearing protection around machinery.  Fortunately, by protecting my ears I regained my hearing.  I was lucky that I learned this lesson so early, before I did permanent damage and before I really got into birding.  Hearing protectors are cheap.  You will find them everywhere in our shop, and hanging on much of the equipment.  I try to make it hard to start up equipment without putting on hearing protection first.

Black and White Warbler.

Black and White Warbler.

So I have some advice gleaned from half a life of experience. For young people:  ear buds don’t protect your hearing when working with machinery – wear ear muffs over them if you want to listen to your music.  Older folks:  don’t wait until you retire to try to learn bird songs.  Learn it now, appreciate it now.