August 2021

Vol. 49, No. 4

Musings from the Blind Birder: The Return of Birdsong: One Birder’s Experience with Hearing Aids

Martha Steele

Blackpoll Warbler. Photograph by “WarblerLady.” ( (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Alvin and I were walking on a rural road near our Vermont home on a cool, late May morning when I heard a short, weak song from my left. Listening for several minutes, I was not sure which bird was singing it. I pulled out my phone and recorded the song to play later to my husband, Bob Stymeist. Alvin and I continued walking until Bob came by in the car on his way to the town transfer station and picked us up. I told him about the bird and played the recording back to him before we started off. Despite amplification of the song from the recording, Bob could not hear the bird. I asked if he had his hearing aids on, to which he replied no, as he was just planning to go to the transfer station and return home. We chuckled, shook our heads, and reminded ourselves again that if you are a birder, it is best never to leave home without your binoculars or, in this case, your hearing aids.

Back at the house, Bob easily heard the song from the phone’s recording after he put his hearing aids on. It was another striking example of how much benefit the hearing aids have been to Bob in the past few years. As we age, many of us start to lose our ability to hear the higher-pitched, or high-frequency, sounds where many bird songs, particularly those of warblers, reside. We may retain for a much longer time excellent hearing in the frequency range of human speech and may not realize that hearing aids could benefit us for specific situations, such as birding, even if most of the time we do not need them. Because birding is so much a function of using what you hear to locate a bird and thus have the opportunity to see it, the loss of the ability to hear birds is a profound one for older birders.

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