Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Tuning Into the Sounds of Nature: Birding

“For some blind birders, avian soundscapes are a way to map the world around them,” according to a recent article in The New York Times describing the experiences of a few birders who are blind. For example, Susan Glass, who has been blind since birth, notes that birding is not just a hobby, stating that “’Birds are my eyesight.’” Through the years, using the sounds of birds, Glass has charted her environment. As a child, she noticed birds singing outside her family’s home on Michigan’s Lake Erie coast and recalled that “’I was paying attention to where they were flying, and I could actually start to hear the dimensions of our little cabin, the screen porch, the front yard.’” From that time on, she has used bird song to map her surroundings. Birding has become more popular in general in recent years, getting an extra boost during the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer distractions, as well as a reduction in ambient noise. A Massachusetts Audubon Society program ornithologist, Sarah Courchesne, credits the increased interest in birding partly to the fact that it provides a way for people of all abilities to “tap into nature, whether by eye, ear or both.” With this growth in popularity and increased diversity, birding clubs and conservation organizations are becoming more focused on accessibility, changing how they talk and think about the pastime. The terminology itself is evidence of the transformation. Previously, the term “birder” referred to those who were more serious than the casual, “bird watcher” hobbyist. Now it is becoming a “catchall,” as a result of growing awareness that some people identify birds not by watching, but strictly by listening. Spaces are being reconfigured also, including features like guardrails to guide visitors with vision loss. The New York Times article provides more details as well as audio examples of the sounds of various species of birds, such as the American Eastern Towhee, the American Robin, the Baltimore Oriole, and Northern Cardinal, to name a few. Read the complete article entitled ‘Birds Are My Eyesight’ here. For more information about this popular pastime and the increase in accessibility, check out previous Bulletin articles, including one on Birding By Ear: Late Winter and Spring Edition and Birding for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: Tips and Resources.