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Spring Music and Lightness of Being

The music of spring has begun! The grip of winter is weakening in the Northern Hemisphere, as the sun’s position increasingly warms the air. Just like water, air flows riverlike across the whole of the planet. The uneven heating of the Earth and differences in atmospheric pressure all cause wind, as the movement of this case strong spring winds.

The generally quieter time of winter is giving way to dramatically increased bird song. The chirps, buzzing, trills and squawks of flocks of migrating birds visiting our feeders on their passage through, or those who have arrived home for the breeding season, are symphonic.

In fact, one American study indicates that the overall reduction in human noise over COVID has been replaced by natural sounds. Many reported getting up to bird song rather than traffic rumbling, connecting to the ancient celebration of the sun rise. A UK study reported, in Euronews, that birdsong is human soul-food and the COVID time has “reignited a love of nature”.

Once, when travelling in the Ecuadorian Amazon, we got up very early to hike many kilometers into a pristine area…then climb about 7 stories to a walkway high above the endless jungle to await the moment the birds wake and serenade the sun’s glorious first rays. This moment of magic with the dawn choral rise....then fall is unforgettable. Even Charles Darwin suggested that birds were singing out of sheer happiness!

Another study, from the U of California Polytechnic last year, found that natural sounds cause a marked increase in human sense of wellbeing. The more diversity of song you hear, the higher your sense of wellbeing. On this basis, they suggest it is time to protect our natural soundscapes!!

In Canada, many migrating birds are coming from Central and South America, generally several thousand miles, depending on bird and destination. It is miraculous that some of the tiniest songbirds can save enough energy in body fat for this intrepid journey, particularly over large expanses of water.

Some go through a molt into new feathers for the journey, like the new clothes we pack for a trip.

Migrating birds generally will not take to the air during steady north winds but wait until there is a moderate tailwind. Just as we watched the remarkable turkey vultures cruise up and down the coast waiting for the best north winds to take them south across the strait, so too, in spring they use the best south wind conditions for their journey north. Sometimes rain and poor weather grounds the migrating birds, who may temporarily end up in your yard in astonishing numbers, especially the Arctic birds we rarely see.

These migrations are normally almost invisible to us unless we seek out regular stopover locations to view them. In my plains home in Edmonton, Canada…I heard, and could barely see, the large, dense flocks of sandhill cranes going south for the winter as I harvested my garden, then going north in more scattered flocks for the summer when I was seeding my garden. Their distinctive throaty, staccato call ricocheted through the clouds.

A few weeks ago on the west coast, we had a large flock of pine siskins visiting the feeder. In their raucous social interchanges, like a gregarious family involved in simultaneous conversations, now including pairing conversations, they flew into all sorts of things (remember that twitterpation?) prompting us to move the feeder and put up even more window deterrence. Then the graceful and elegant varied thrushes came to visit for several weeks in addition to all the regulars, from chestnut backed chickadees to flickers.