21 May 2020, The Tablet

Listen to our singing planet

Urban tweeting

Listen to our singing planet

A blackbird “with the voice of an angel”; inset, the high-pitched whistling goldcrest
Photos: PA/Sulupress.de, Torsten Sukro


In the middle of the sadness of the coronavirus pandemic and the silence of the lockdown, city-dwellers have found consolation and connection in the sound of birdsong

The dawn chorus of the lockdown flows in through open windows. Suddenly, an atmosphere that is usually dulled by the humdrum of working life is vibrating with cadences of joy.

The liquid-gold song of a blackbird is a warm bed of thoughtful phrases; he is a black-frocked preacher with the voice of an angel. A wren provides the power, a trilling, a pulsating aria that cannot be ignored. It contrasts sharply with the self-consciously pretty song of the dunnock, who seems too shy to take centre stage, and, anyway, has forgotten the words. “Goodbye my mother-in-law. Goodbye my-mother-in-law” chant the irascible blue tits, too busy with greenfly to waste time with lyricism. Then, like a sprinkling of sugar, goldfinches flutter into the trees and tinkle. No choir of seraphims could sound so sweet. All these characters have lived in my city garden for years, but now I can hear them. Now at last I have the time to listen.

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