Birding by Ear Provides Skills for Lifelong Happiness

Five people watching and listening to birds
Participants in last year’s Birding by Ear outing

The Council teamed up with Madison Audubon Society once again earlier this spring to present Birding by Ear, an education program we’ve been offering since 2018. This year’s events included an online educational session offered at two different times in April and two field trips to Warner Park on Madison’s north side in May. The purpose of Birding by Ear is to help people identify birds by their sounds rather than by the way they look. Thirty-six participants attended this year’s classes.

“We had a great group of birders who asked some terrific questions,” says Jim Denham, Access Technology Specialist at the Council, who helps with the course each year. “The class certainly had an impact.”

Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications and Outreach at Madison Audubon, is an avid birder. For Brenna, the annual event is a unique opportunity for people to learn among fellow students with different backgrounds and abilities.

“It connects two really wonderful groups in this community: traditional birders and people who have sight impairments,” Brenna says. “The value is this creates an overlap.” Brenna also appreciated the opportunity to once again partner with the Council. “We get to connect to the wonderful, dynamic organization that is the Council, and we get to meet with the public and do birding in this unique and wonderful way,” she says.

Brenna takes pleasure in watching “aha” moments occur during the classes. “I think it’s intriguing to people to get a sense of what birds are around them without having to see them,” she says. “It’s kind of a fun puzzle and a miraculous feeling to hear them and then know them.” She believes the experience is driven by pure, human curiosity, which can be a rare thing in these days of a quick answer on Google. And then there’s the value of learning side-by-side with people who are different from you. “Because it’s designed for all kinds of folks and all different levels of birding,” Brenna says.

Identifying birds by ear can provide lifelong pleasure, and studies have shown that being around birds is associated with better mental health. “We want everyone to know the happiness that birds bring,” Brenna says. “Once folks realize you can identify a bird based on a song in addition to sight, it opens a whole new way to experience the world. Now you can go birding anytime, anywhere. It makes it accessible. These birds’ songs are just hanging out there waiting to be explored and discovered.”

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