17 May 2022
Did you know that age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, affects 1 out of 3 of people by age 65 and half of us by age 75?
The CDC explains that “the most important sounds we hear every day are in the 250 to 6,000 Hertz range.” Fortunately for those with presbycusis, frequencies above the “important” range are the first to go.
In my 40’s I learned to identify birds by ear but my skill has come undone in recent years because some birds, especially warblers, sing above 6,000 Hz. I would not have noticed it except that I go birding with people who hear well and can identify birds by song. They point out birds I cannot hear.
This spring I’ve watched a few warblers open their mouths, vibrate their throats, and say nothing! Can you hear them? Turn up your speakers and test your hearing.
Cape May Warbler, 8250 Hertz: In this 2-second recording the Cape May Warbler (photo at top) sings a single high-pitched trill.
Blackpoll warbler song, 8,000 Hertz:
The blackpoll sings loudly 4 times in the audio below — at the beginning (3 seconds), end (46 seconds) and at 17 and 31 seconds into the recording. If you don’t hear anything really loud you are not hearing the blackpoll.
Black-and-white warbler, 5500 – 6750 Hertz:
In this recording the black-and-white warbler sings four notes in quick succession. The loudest parts of his song are at two frequencies: 5500 and 6750. I can hear this warbler if there’s not a lot of background noise. Otherwise no.
Fortunately Cornell Lab has produced a bird identification tool that also functions as a “bird hearing” aid. Download Merlin to your cellphone and use the Sound ID feature. Your phone will hear the birds that you cannot!
p.s. By now my ears have told you my age. How old are your ears? Check out this video which also explains why so many people have age-related hearing loss.
(photos by Chuck Tague)