Bird Watcher's General Store

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New Device Helps The Hearing Challenged Hear Bird Calls


Dear Bird Folks,

Last week on the Talkin’ Birds radio show you mentioned a device that helps people hear bird songs. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of the device. Could you please tell me more about this item and would you recommend it?

– Mike, Doylestown, PA


Thanks for listening, Mike,

I’m glad you listen to Talkin’ Birds (which is technically known as Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, in honor of the creator and superstar host). Each week, via both radio and podcast, Ray fills us in on the latest bird and environmental news. In addition, the show has an assortment of noted guests, including a segment from another guy named Mike. I’m not sure who this other Mike is, but he definitely sounds smart.

Hearing birds has become more and more frustrating for me in recent years. I can no longer hear the high notes. The bass birds, such as crows and doves, come in loud and clear, but the sounds produced by those little chirpy guys have all but disappeared. Now when I go for a bird walk I see birds with their mouths open, but there’s nothing coming out, or so it seems. Then last month, I read an article written by Serafin Menocal, about a Bose product called “Hearphones.” (That’s not a typo. I’m not talking about headphones, no matter how much my spell checker protests.) Serafin claimed the Hearphones helped him hear the bird sounds he had been missing. I immediately put the magazine down and went out and bought a pair Bose Hearphones, and so far I really like them. Thanks, Serafin.

The first thing I should point out is that these things aren’t cheap. They sell for around five hundred bucks, but I only paid $499. (I know a guy.) But even with the stiff price, Hearphones are less expensive than fancy hearing aids. Plus, you don’t need a specialist to set them up for you. All of the adjustments are made via an app on your smartphone. You can control the balance and volume, plus adjust the bass or increase the treble, which is what I like to do. The unit has ten hours of battery life and is recharged just like a cell phone. The two earpieces are attached to a thin band that fits on the back of your neck. Some folks might not be excited about wearing the band, but I like it. Instead of looking like an old geezer with hearing aids, I look like an old geezer with cool earbuds. I’m so hip.

My first tryout was at the Beech Forest in Provincetown. This National Seashore property is usually active in May and it certainly was on this day. From the minute I put the Hearphones on I could hear a wall of bird sounds. There were the usual bigmouth birds: jays, robins, cardinals, etc., but I was also able to pick out sounds I hadn’t heard in years (more likely, decades). One was the husky “ spee-spuu” of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Next were the fast rising buzzes of the Northern Parula (warbler) and the “zee-zee-zoo-zee” of the Black-throated Green Warbler. There were several other songs too, but since I hadn’t heard these songs in forever, I was a bit rusty and couldn’t figure them out. Nonetheless, I was off to a great start. Then my wife (as usual) spotted something rare. (How does she do it?)

We were walking on the back part of the trail, when I heard her say, “What’s that?” It was a brilliant Hooded Warbler. Occasionally, during migration, this southern-nesting bird overshoots its range and it’s big news. Within minutes birders were converging from all directions. The bird was feeding in the dense thickets along the edge of a pond, which made it hard to follow. After a few quick views and one blurry photo, I lost the bird. And because the warbler wasn’t singing, my new super ears weren’t doing me any good. After a ten-minute search came up empty, we decided to move on. Then I heard something from the other side of the pond. It wasn’t the song of the warbler or any other bird for that matter. It was the sound of cameras clicking. I turned to my wife and Casey, who had just joined our search, and said, “I hear cameras snapping over there. I’ll bet they’ve found the warbler.” We raced over and indeed they had found the bird, allowing me another opportunity to snap a few less blurry photos. With my new ears I could not only hear birds, but Nikons, too. Thanks, Hearphones.

I should point out that Bose advertises the Hearphones as conversation enhancers, not necessarily to boost bird songs. That’s fine, but it’s not what I need them for. Normally, I can hear what most folks are saying…if I’m actually interested. While I like using the Hearphones, there are a few things to keep in mind. For instance, if you don’t put the earpieces in perfectly, you’ll get real annoying feedback. And like the side mirror on a car, where “images are closer than they appear,” I sometimes hear the birds so loud and clear that I think they’re in a bush right in front of me, when often times they are actually in a distant tree. I looked pretty silly until I figured that out.

I would totally recommend these Hearphones, Mike. They may not be flawless, but they sure help me. Although, it’s important to keep in mind that all sounds are increased, not just bird sounds. Cars, trucks and even passing planes are now way too loud. Even my footsteps sound like I’m walking on bubble wrap. But most importantly, whatever you do, shut them off before you use a public restroom, or you may never get those sounds out of your head.