Blog #11: The Sounds of Spring

March 25, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Spring is in the air, and so are spring’s beautiful sounds as well as those that make them: our local birds here in Vienna! But I am not writing this blog just because I enjoy being awakened in the morning by the singsong of our feathered friends, seemingly residing in the courtyard of the urban apartment building I live in. Further to the joy that birds bring, I also want to talk about the fact that they are under threat, here in Vienna and elsewhere, and that collectively we can do a lot to safeguard this important and beautiful part of God’s creation.
Let’s start with who is here right now: The short answer is that Vienna has many, many different kinds of birds, even noted for that by the Urbanbirder. The most common birds in Vienna are the Great Tit (Kohlmeise), the Common Blackbird (Amsel), the Blackcap (Moenchsgrasmuecke), Pigeons (Tauben), and Swallows (Schwalben). If you are trying to figure out who is that chirpy little person in front of you, Birdlifean Austrian NGO, is here to help. While their website is in German only, using some rudimentary vocabulary (Vogel), you can find the page where they introduce you to pictures and sounds of local bird populations. And you can even participate in their birdcounting exercises! Currently ongoing in Vienna is the counting of Woodpecker sounds. Yes, Vienna seems to be unique across Europe in that here we host nine (9!) different types of Woodpeckers! And right now, in March, these little guys do more woodpecking than in any other month of the year. More on Vienna’s birds you can also learn at the local Volkshochschule, who knew!
But what’s wrong with that picture? Most birdlovers will know the numbers: Bird populations have continued to decline massively in the past 20-50 years, in the US by about percent since 1970, in Europe by 4-17 percent since 2000, in some areas and depending on the type of bird up to 40 percent and more, such as the Austrian countryside birds (Feldvoegel). The decline in bird populations is in fact a worrisome global trend. Why is it happening? There are many reasons, and they are complex. Here in Austria, a lot has to do with habitat and food. Many birds are literally starving, their regular food, insects and worms, are disappearing rapidly as a result of broad use of insecticides and the removal of spaces where insects tend to live. Bird habitats, themselves, are shrinking, as farmers are removing hedges to make most use of the land they have. In essence, we humans are taking the spaces that birds need to live.
What can we do? Organizations dedicated to protecting birds, whose motto is giving birds a voice, have been raising alarm for some time now. They are mobilizing help, often successfully so. One simple action: feeding the birds where they need it and doing it well. There are debates about when exactly and what exactly is best, but, der Naturschutzbund, the City of Viennaand many others have the right tips for you. Once autumn and winter come, we will remind you! And yes, some people advocate feeding birds all through the year, but I am not feeling scientifically equipped enough to discuss all the pros and cons here. Importantly, the bird organizations remind us that we all must be bird advocates, seeing the world through a bird’s eye, helping to maintain spaces in our city where birds can live, eat, breed, and sing.
In the meantime, let’s also enjoy the birds we have. Birding or birdwatching is a pastime that I had, in my mind, always associated with the nerds among us,. But, it seems to be a rather accessible and pleasurable pastime... AND it’s Covid-safe! The City of Vienna, on its website, hosts a Birding for Beginners guide, written in German, but with pictures and quite easy to figure out. Vienna alone has some 25 promising birdwatching trails. And will inform you about interesting bird sightings. Do you feel unsure, never having done birding and you don’t know how to do it? Fear no more. There is, an organization that will match you up with someone else who will show you around the best birdwatching sights.
Final fun fact for the Vienna lover: Vienna has some 40+ streets and places named after birds. Plus, it has plenty of hills and locales with bird names too, not to mention the many eagles appearing in the coats of arms all around here.
Am I now a birder? No, not yet, at least. But I did go out to the Herder Bookstore and got myself a bird poster. I fixed it on the door in the loo. So now, there is plenty of observation time booked to learn about the local populations.