As my body and mind accumulate the years, physical and sensory functions begin to decline. At about the age of 37, one needs to wear glasses to read. Balance begins to slip in the 50s, declines in walking speed become evident in the 60s and 70s. Then there is hair loss, age spots, and a loss of bone marrow. Taste buds are less sensitive. If you take care of your teeth, they should last you a lifetime. Hearing, well, that’s a different issue and one that is pertinent to birdwatching.
We have hair cells in our cochlea, the curled organ in our ears filled with fluid. The fluid vibrates with sound witting the ears and the hair cells transmit that sound to the brain. In birds, these hair cells die, like all cells eventually due, but new ones take their place. So birds always have perfect hearing. Humans, however, do not replace damaged or dead hair cells, so as we age, our hearing declines. How much it declines depends on the person. If you work in a boiler factory, go to rock concerts, or operate noisy equipment, your hearing will deteriorate faster than if you worked in a library. Most older people have a detectable hearing loss, as I do. Higher frequency sounds disappear first, which is unfortunate for birders since a lot of bird songs are in that range.
I received the following email the other day: I’m a birder from Queensland, Australia and just starting a serious project to locate birding related websites for people like me who have major hearing issues and wondered if you have knowledge of any organisations that I could contact to get information for birding for folk like me. I was a keen birder but since an unidentified virus gave me total deafness in one ear and Hyperacusis (i.e. far too loud hearing in the other ear!) I cannot sensibly “go birding” any more the conventional way, I am not going to let this stop me, I just need some pointers to how other people with significant disabilities, (not necessarily hearing ones) go about their birding activities.. Perhaps there are some common issues? I hope this email from a very different sort of disability person doesn’t surprise you too much! I’m not for giving up entirely, but it is difficult!!!
If anyone has any input I would like to hear it.
There is an interesting article in Seattle Audubon, Birding By Ear With Hearing Aids. And another about birding with hearing aids . Then there is a website called Earbirding that addresses the issue. You might also be interested in Boomers, Birders, and Hearing Aids.
Now, hearing aids do help, but they are of varying quality and prices. I’m on my third pair. Although they amplify sounds, often I just don’t know what I am missing until someone points it out. There is a digital bird song hearing aid called The Songfinder that claims to make high pitched bird calls audible by lowering their pitch. I have no idea if it works so I’ll wait for some reviews before I shell out $750. Here is one interesting review of both hearing aids and the Songfinder.