Listen to the Birds

I will remember the December just gone as having been mostly grey and grim. And wet. On many days, in the little park below my kitchen window, the leaden skies seemed to hang so low they could hardly have been above tree-top level. And in the rare, brief appearances of a watery sun, you could see your face and the bare branches of the trees reflected in the puddles that were everywhere in the sodden ground.

There was hardly ever any wind – and it was strangely quiet. Just the odd cry or shout from the children’s playground; a dog barking; distant traffic. It was like the world was waiting for something. And seldom, in that stillness, the sound of a bird.

W and I sat in the park many times, looking around, wondering where they were. The occasional wood or feral pigeon would zoom down out of the murk, peck at a few minuscule specks on the wet pathways, then clatter up and away, leaving the park birdless once more. Where, at times like that, do the birds go? Do they tuck themselves away in the deeper recesses of hedgerows, briar patches and nooks in the eves of houses where they wait out the cold and the wet?

But then, only a few days after Christmas, things began to change. I was walking through the park on my way back from the shops one morning when I was brought up with a start by a sound – a bit like the far off rippling of a fast running stream. Listening, I slowed right down. As I moved forward, the sound grew in volume until it became clear it was coming from somewhere above me. I stopped, looked up. The topmost branches of a tall plane tree were swarming with tiny birds! It looked and sounded like each one was chattering and twittering at full tilt with all those around it. They were little more than silhouettes, hopping around and fluttering against an overcast sky, but I could see them clearly enough to recognize the shapes of tits, great tits, blue tits. It was like the bird world had come alive again!

And since that day, so it has continued. Yesterday, the blackbirds who live in the park were scuttling around, rooting among the dead leaves on the ground, shattering the peace with the occasional alarm call; one was perched on the TV aerial of a nearby house, singing his exquisite, flute-like song. The four or five robins who live in the park were all out there, singing. One was no more than a metre and a half from me, quite unconcerned by my presence, as I stood watching him, his red breast pulsing with his beautifully wistful song. (I say ‘him’, but he might have been a her – the robin sexes look alike and both sing). And as I was watching him, a sudden squadron of half a dozen brilliantly green, ring-neck parakeets with their scimitar-like wings and long, trailing tail feathers swooped by overhead like jet fighters, squawking like banshees as they raced away into the trees. It really felt as though something had happened to jolt the birds from their hideaways and launch them into a new, expectant round of life and living.

I wonder if birds instinctively recognize when the year changes – and I mean not when our numbered Gregorian years shift from 19 to 20 etc, but when the natural, seasonal change occurs – at the time of the winter solstice, December 21st/22nd. I wonder if they sense when the dying of the old year is done, and the birth of a new one is about to take place. Then out they come, tweeting, singing, soaring through the air, looking for a mate with whom they can ride life’s new wave.

I’d like to think they do. Birds, after all, possess mind-bogglingly complex instincts. How does a tiny, delicate creature like a willow warbler, for example, weighing only a few grammes, manage to make its way every year, the four or five thousand miles from Central Africa to the UK in order to breed, then make it all the way back again? How is it birds such as swallows often come back to the same nest site in the UK that they had the year before? How does any migrant bird know when it’s time to leave either one of those countries to begin the journey to the other? And yet, unfailingly, they do.

You can learn a lot from birds. Sit by a lake in a park and just watch the ducks, the geese or the swans. Don’t think – just look and be. It’s a meditation. They go calmly, quietly and in an enviably stately manner about their business. Every now and then, there might be an irruption of squawking and flying feathers. But after only a few seconds of purely ritualized confrontation, the combatants will part and once again, go their separate ways with little more than a shaking down of their feathers, as if to dispel any residue of irritation or anger. Such wisdom. Were they to act as we do, each combatant would retire to his own clump of reeds and recruit an army.

We could learn a lot from birds. And the state we’re in at the moment, we sure need to learn a lot from somebody.



About besonian

Writer, photographer, film director
This entry was posted in Birds/birdsong, Human intolerance, Life, love and living, London, mindfulness, Nature, spirituality, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Listen to the Birds

  1. willowdot21 says:

    I certainly agree 💜

    • besonian says:

      I think the whole animal and avian kingdoms could teach us a thing or two if we had the minds to listen and learn. Damage limitation seems our only way forward at the moment. But reality will catch up – perhaps quite soon now, if the situation in Australia is any indication.

      • willowdot21 says:

        I am afraid we might be nearer to the end than we realise. It might seem silly but, fire the floods in Australia, war and famine ever present, pestilence in China with the new flu……the four Horsemen of the apocalypse are here already….Gosh that’s a cheery thought, we do need to wake up! 💜💜

      • besonian says:

        Might not be a very cheery thought – but you may be right. And if you listen carefully, there are times when I’m sure I’ve heard the galloping hooves!

      • willowdot21 says:

        Yes indeed so have I!

  2. I started putting up bird feeders in my back garden several years ago and since then have learned to recognize different species. When I don’t see some familiar types for a week or so, I wonder where they’ve gone. And watching them is a good way to spend a few minutes, or even a half-hour.

    • besonian says:

      Birds have fascinated me since I was a teenager. I used to spend hours, armed with a cheap old telescope which was all I could afford, in places like Windsor Great Park and the Thames marshes just watching the birds that thronged those places. As for the types of birds you mention that are in your area for just a short while, it could be they are migrants, passing through. This is the case here in the UK with quite a lot of species. I was watching in the park only this morning some redwing which are winter migrants from Scandavia. They’ll be gone within a few weeks now.l

  3. Sue Vincent says:

    There have been birds here all winter, but I too have missed their song…and heard them heralding the spring as the first crocus bloomed, in spite of the plummeting temperatures and hard frosts. I have often wondered how they know… and yet, they clearly do, attuned to the song of Nature.

    • besonian says:

      Thanks, Sue. Yes, like I said in the post, they have mind-boggling instincts and I’m sure they know – their body clocks probably sense that tiny increase in the length of daylight when the year starts to turn. We were probably able to do that a few millennia ago 🙂

      • Sue Vincent says:

        Our reliance on technology is a double edged sword and I hope the scales balance in the end.

      • besonian says:

        It is indeed Sue. But it’s use is so indiscriminate and thoughtless that I don’t think the scales will balance until some catastrophe deriving from it occurs We just carry on blindly, as though having more and more stuff automated, super-convenient and at our fingertips is going to make us happy. We should surely have shot that fox by now.

      • Sue Vincent says:

        We are not all that old as a species… and have much to learn 😉

      • besonian says:

        True Sue. What I can’t understand however is why it takes so long for us to learn. All around the world now, the lessons of two world wars and all their horrors are being pushed to one side. I sometimes wonder if, at some point along mankind’s development, we took a wrong turning. It’s a thought I can’t claim as original – Krishnamurti and David Bohm were positing it at least thirty years ago. But is seems even more relevant with today’s tragic goings-on.

      • Sue Vincent says:

        I find it hard to understand how we can sweephistory under the carpe as though it is no longer relevant. Learning frommistakes is the only good excuse for making them in the firts place.

  4. I love hearing from the birds again.

    • besonian says:

      Walking through the park yesterday I was literally surrounded by a vast twittering going on in the tops of the trees all around me. Looking up, I saw what must have been a hundred or more redwing. Don’t know if you know them but they’re a small thrush that breeds in Scandenavia and migrates here to the UK in our winter. Never seen so many at one time. I guess they’ll be on their way back in a few weeks.

      • I haven’t seen the Redwings, Jeff. I did think of you first thing this morning as I walked on the prom and in the privet hedges at the edge the sparrows were in full song. It’s a joyous sound.

      • besonian says:

        Sparrows – of which you see so few of these days in towns, are wonderful the way a group of them will zoom into privet bush and immedtiately set up a huge, chattering commotion, usually invisible to the outside world. Like they’re all shouting at each other. Perhaps they are.

      • We have freezing fog here and their chatter carried on the still air.

  5. besonian says:

    Thank you, Jane. And their songs are all so different. In fact some ‘songs’ are pretty un-song-like! Try the croak of Magpie for example or the screeches of the ring-neck parakeet – of which there are literally thousands around here in South London. But then there’s the exquisite song of the common Blackbird – one of the most beautiful of all European bird songs. Or the sad, poignancy of the European Robin – whose song in the autumn does actually change to become slightly sadder and downbeat. Extraordinary creatures!

  6. Pingback: Listen to the Birds ~ Jeff Grant | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    I couldn’t imagine a world without birds – they enrich our lives so much. In winter, when our landscape is covered with snow and little moves through the land, my feeders are active reminders that life is still present and ongoing.

    • besonian says:

      What a dreadful thought – a world without birds – seriously. In fact, that’s almost what it was like in the park as I was describing. Where are they? we kept asking ourselves. It felt not only very odd, but quite ominous, like some fundamental and very dark shift had taken place.

  8. If it’s true that the birds used to be dinosaurs, then they have been around on this good earth an awfully long time… 😉

    • besonian says:

      They must have been the dinosaurs that didn’t get wiped out! Maybe that’s what will happen to us – get wiped out as being not fit for purpose.

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