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the songs of birds: comforting our molecular core

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

the songs of birds: comforting our molecular core

Andrew Ryan

One early morning recently, I was having trouble relaxing into a sleepy state. For hours I was in bed, trying to turn my brain off, but sleep would not come. I gave up, waited out the dawn, and by 7am, the sun was well on its way to up. The birds were singing merrily, I realised that I was completely relaxed, and off I went to sleep, almost straight away. I had about five hours of sleep in the end, much more than I was expecting, and I have bird songs to thank for it.

It is well documented that human beings have been fascinated by the sounds birds make for as long as we’ve had the ability to write about it. There are different theories as to why this is, but generally it boils down to the biophilia hypothesis- that we have a natural inclination towards all things nature related, whether or not we realise it. We love plants, we love animals, we have to eat them and so we love them, and every human with a maternal or paternal instinct will get clucky over a tiny baby version of any mammal. Birds have been around since the beginnings of the human race, so it must be comforting to our very molecular core to hear them sing.

Chris Watson, of Cabaret Voltaire fame, is taking this a step further, and is setting up a program at some hospital in England that plays bird songs to help kids relax before treatments. I personally fucking LOVE this idea. The therapeutic benefits of nature have been known for a long time, but never properly put into practise in western medicine. I think there will be a marked improvement in our relationship with hospitals if this whole nature thing is explored properly.

But it’s a little weird that we draw such pleasure from bird songs because what we hear as beautiful, melodious pips and whistles, would be something along the lines of “OI LOVE, GET OVER HERE AND I’LL IMPREGNATE YOU SO GOOD” if translated into English. If a bird has the ability to sing, he will fucking sing his little heart out to prove that his genes are the most desirable. The combination of being brave in the face of such threat from nearby predators and the power with which he commands his space, voice and body is not unlike the mating rituals of less… refined members of our own race. POR EJEMPLO, bogan teenagers desperately showing off to the 15 year old girl with the biggest boobies, playing chicken with each other in cars or on train tracks, or getting a tattoo to prove how badass he is, because everyone knows that girls love badasses. It means that badass genes get passed down to our babies, and they have a better chance of survival. Obviously.

Just like people, there are varying levels of bad-assery amongst the male feathered creatures during their mating seasons. For example, the splendid fairy wren will make a special call straight after the call of his main predator in order to gain the attention of the female. She responds more strongly to this call than any other that is made by potential baby daddy, and it has been likened to going on a date to see a horror film. Flirtation through fear, according to the linked article. Another species I vaguely remember reading about climbs up a stick, singing as he goes, then drops back down to the bottom to repeat the process. I suppose the attractive bit would be how loud the song is in comparison with how much time he spends exposed at the top of the stick. Oh yeah baby, you climb that stick.

Bird songs definitely become less relaxing if you’re thinking about how dangerous life is for the little birds you’re listening to. So for now, just block that out, think about a sunrise, and go here if you want to chill out a little. Despite our modern translation of the sounds into calls begging for sex, they’re still reeeeeeally nice to hear, and one cannot deny it. We have an ancestral respect for nature I suppose, something written into our DNA that gently implies to us that it’s beautiful to hear birds chirping amongst the trees, simply because it means that, for us, there is food readily available (the birds), and there are no predators nearby to scare them off. A calming thought for sure.

The true testament to the relaxing nature of bird songs is that in doing research for this week’s piece, I managed to spend an entire night on the computer, didn’t write a single goddamned word, yet fell asleep as soon as I shut my eyes, AND had a smile on my face. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, if this world turmoil is too much, with middle eastern politics and a new natural disasters every week…if it’s all getting to you, try listening to bird songs on your computer. Easy! Or, you can visit this place for all your relaxing, soothing needs. It’s kind of weird, but in a nice way. Awwwwwww.