The songs of the birds can no longer compete with our sirens

FADE Environmental Articles, Weekly Column 0

I live on one of the busiest highways on Lagos Island. When I moved into my home many decades ago, the street was a relatively quiet stretch of road full of mostly residential buildings. However, time and the need to accommodate the booming population happened to make it what it is now. It also doesn’t help that there’s a connection between my highway and many Islands; Lagos Island to the north, Ikoyi to the west and Lekki peninsula to the south.  It is one of the few public roads in the city without potholes and gullies, so it is the choice route for a good part of the estimated one million vehicles that ply Lagos roads daily to make connections to the different places on the Island from this highway. I have lived on this street for over 40 years now and as a nature lover, it is not surprising that my compound stands out due to the number of huge trees and plants of different species in it.

The trees cover the house almost making for the sky especially, the coconut trees and royal palms. The trees usually attract a swarm of birds that have flown hundreds of kilometers from all over, some from as far as from the forest of the south-west, Republic of Benin and the wetland of Epe. I have often mentioned that my favourite part of waking up early is listening to the birds chirping away amongst themselves in a language I may not understand but I certainly enjoy. It is music to my ears and a sight to behold. Sometimes, I get the feeling that some of them follow me to my home town in Delta, because I hear similar songs in the forest of my homeland.

There are people in my village that can tell you the meaning of the songs from almost all the birds. From the songs, they are often able to forecast weather changes, when to begin the planting and harvesting seasons and even foretell the outcome of certain events. Although birds can sing at any time of day during the dawn chorus, their songs are often louder, livelier, and more frequent. Experts say the choir is mostly made up of male birds, attempting to attract mates and warn other males away from their territories. They are also convinced that the sounds are reassuring to humans because over thousands of years of evolution we’ve learned that the sweet melody of birds merrily singing is an indication that our environment is safe. The trees which serve as stages for the birds rustling and swaying to the music with the help of the wind’s caress and that union is such a beautiful thing to behold. Sometimes I am so intrigued that I just stand and watch trees bend and sway gracefully as the wind blow against them. It doesn’t stand rigid, resisting the flow of energy. It does not push back. The wind pattern and arrival of rains are also supplemented by all these movements. Sadly, for many, the sounds of the early morning and late evening songs that come from hundreds of different birds that migrate in and migrate out of our communities mean nothing.

This is probably why the fact that the birds have become fewer and the songs are diminishing in recent times has barely raised any eyebrows in my street. There are a number of reasons for this, high up on the list is our increasing love for concrete over greenery but since my trees haven’t been cut down but they are having less avian visitors, I believe another factor to consider is the competing sounds from the vehicles incessantly blaring out their sirens and polluting the atmosphere from early morning till late night. I often wonder where the vehicles are going to and who they are trying to clear from the roads even at midnight. Are they late for an emergency or are they hurrying off to a party or a night club? This also brings to question who has the permission to use the siren and in what situation should it be deployed. We all know how suspicious we get even at a speeding, siren blaring ambulance because from experience they have been known to be empty or transporting mere goods of no urgent importance. Yet, we have been told by scientists that noise pollution is partly responsible for the hearing problem some of us have at a very early age.

My understanding of a siren is of a loud noise-making device typically used to warn of natural disasters or attacks or in emergency situations. Hence the reason people respect the siren and give way when they hear it coming. However, we can all say that isn’t often the case in our beloved nation. I recall a memory which I shared in my autobiography about the power of the siren. During a Sallah celebration some years back, I was in my village when a former minister friend rang me up to enquire about my whereabouts. I told him that I was simply relaxing in the village following which he then mentioned that he was sending something across to me. At that time, I had no idea what it was but I was soon to find out a few hours later in a most interesting way.

My village is very serene with barely any sound of vehicular traffic and my house is tucked away far from the heart of town. All of a sudden, I could hear the sound of a siren getting louder and louder until it was almost at my gate. My immediate thought was that my minister friend had come himself to deliver the gift, I went to the gate with the intention of receiving whoever it might be.

When I got to the gate, I saw a Hilux pick-up van with a ram at the back. It had two other occupants; the driver and an orderly. I was rattled and had to ask if they had been responsible for the siren, to which the orderly, who laid down flat to greet me, responded with, “Oga, it is Sallah na.”  I couldn’t get over it – the use of the siren in a former minister’s vehicle when he was not in it. So was the siren meant for the ram?

This is not an isolated example albeit a rather unfortunate one. I want my birds back. I want to listen to my early morning and late evening songs. I want to live out my days with my hearing intact. We already have enough problems as it is.


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