How Bird Language Helps Us Connect

Meet Jon YoungArticle by Jon Young, 8 Shields Founder

Research about the impact of nature connection on people’s health and well-being is now pointing directly at something we have observed through our work over the past 30 years: bird language really helps move people into true nature connection.

My book, What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World, has helped open doors to new audiences, and to affirm that people from these new audiences are connecting to nature through bird language.

In his review for The Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Rosen helped to bring out implications for nature connection and families through existing bird enthusiasts. It’s very exciting.

“What makes the approach of What the Robin Knows so refreshing is that it borrows back into bird-watching something the practice often surrenders to birders, those single-minded stalkers who identify and then abandon individual birds with promiscuous fury. My daughter has little interest in my fits of avian acquisitiveness, but sitting quietly in the woods, taking in the whole system as a sort of babbling classroom whose sounds and silences all communicate something important, she was mesmerized—and so was I. This, more than anything else, is what bird-watching ought to mean.”

-Jonathan Rosen, author of Bird Sense, for The Wall Street Journal

An Instinctive Response

Think about Jonathan’s “mesmerized” daughter in this. What causes this mesmerized response?

What I have heard again and again is that bird language “makes sense” in a deeper kind of way. People can relate to bird language in a deeply human and truly ancient way, and these are not necessarily people who are really interested in “birding” like I am, or review author Jonathan Rosen is. However, I don’t see bird language as necessarily separate from birding; in fact, I see bird language as an essential and helpful component of bird watching. That said, it is clear that folks I know who are not interested in birding, are interested in bird language. And, I am discovering, it can work the other way too!

The more important questions for me, though, are: “What is compelling an almost instinctive response in people discovering bird language and its connective practice?” And, “How can we benefit from these patterns, and help others as well?”

In my earlier days of training and mentoring naturalists, there was a profusion of guide books that answered the question “who?” These are identification guides for wildlife and plants. There are many “identification guides” it seems for most everything that moves and crawls, and even things like rocks, stars and weather. Then, along came a new genre of guidebooks that reflected a ‘deepening’ inquiry. These are books that talk about “what” animals and birds are doing. The field guides to bird behavior emerged.

As the birding world deepens further, it seems that bird language can take off on the “what” birds are doing and go into the “why” and “how” a bit more. Bird language is helping to fill in the story in our field guide literature a bit more. It’s not new understanding; bird language is ancient and is being retold in a new language of science.

Connecting on a Deep Level

The other thing that bird language is providing is an experience of feedback to us as participants in the birds’ experience—not just our own. In other words, our behavior impacts their behavior. With an understanding of how we can alter our behavior, and thereby their behavior, we gain something yet deeper. This is part of what we mean by “deep bird language”.

Though the term “deep bird language” was coined during the writing of What the Robin Knows, reflection on implications of the term “deep” changed the way I see what I do and what our greater 8 Shields movement offers. When applied to what our movement has been doing for thirty years, the word basically brands us our very approach to nature connection.

It was from the naming of the concept of deep bird language that I realized my life’s work is about deep nature connection. The ‘success’ of deep nature connection, and its subset deep bird language, is measured and defined by certain attributes. These attributes indicate ‘arrival at the station’ called “deep” along the path as a continuum from perceived and experienced disconnection to the place where connection is self-evident and drives changes in values and behaviors (towards sustainability).

For this article, I want to stay focused on bird language as a practice and its impact on us, and its influence on our journey towards emergent deep nature connection attributes.

Benefits of Deep Nature Connection

When the core routines of learning bird language are practiced, there are resultant benefits. These are linked to the attributes of deep nature connection, and are brought on through regular immersion in practices of attentiveness, silence, listening, sharing learning through storytelling and sitting quietly in the same area day after day, season after season. Over time, through these and other related practices constituting the study and experience of bird language, these are some of the benefits could emerge:

1) The attentive practices of bird language help people sense and awakening an ancient, instinctive potential to pay attention at a much more profound level; this attentiveness brings about benefits from quieting the mind, developing a sense of inner calm and peace, awakening curiosity and increasing enjoyment of the out-of-doors experience

2) Through developing connections with birds, people report that they are happier and more engaged with our surroundings

3) The vitality with which birds respond to bird language is inspiring; people report that they are influenced in a positive way by the “modeling” the quickness of birds provides

4) The deep-listening skills and multi-dimensional attentiveness to the language of birds helps people to become better listeners and more attentive to others as friends, parents, mentors and other facilitators of human interaction and support

5) Developing further experience and attentiveness to the feedback from birds and wildlife about a person’s approach and movement in the birds’ habitat, causes people to grow a greater sense of respect, empathy and a sense of connection to birds (and other wildlife); this in turn, will bring people closer to wildlife and helps people feel that they have become a part of nature and not an “intruder” into nature

6) Developing understanding of interactions between birds, wildlife and their habitats expands understanding of ecology and inspires people to become more helpful to their human and natural neighbors with a more conscientious and sustainable orientation

7) Over time, bird language practices will foster deeper appreciation and compassion for all living things and an awakened sense of a gratitude for the opportunity to be alive; people report that this really opens their heart and sense of love for their families and others in their lives, humanity in general and themselves.

Going Further. . .

There are many ways you can enjoy learning and experiencing bird language in your own back yard from products and offerings from 8 Shields Institute in collaboration with many fine projects around the world!

Free On-line Media: Check out the What the Robin Knows audio library on our site

Books: My book What the Robin Knows is available through the 8 Shields store.

Audio Media: Advanced Bird Language offers stories I am telling to a live audience from my field experiences and musing on the implications of bird language.

DVD Media: Bird Language with Jon Young is a video media course teaching both bird language basics, and how to work with groups in training settings. This video will help you start a bird language group in your town!

Weeklong Bird Language Course: Bird Language Intensive is an absolutely life-changing immersion into the study of bird language in a group experience. This is a phenomenal and very efficient training experience for anyone who wishes to bring bird language to others!

Jon Young

  • Hi Jon,

    I really enjoyed reading this. While I have not done any I depth study of bird language or bird behaviour, I have been graced by the presence and influence of many folks who have. Also, I am lucky to be able to return to the same spots weekly through the seasons with my outdoor art~play group, and of course, the birds are there through the seasons doing their various things, communicating so much to us. I feel instanntly elated, now, Spring is here and there is so much chatter of what there is to come. I tell my children about the first kinds of language, or the first signs, prints, songs, stories….who told them, sang them out for all to know? Who left the most basic tracks for us to read, to follow?

    Above you mention ‘feed back’, and I think this word is so vital and critical in our time, filled with peeps, whistles, flashing coloured lights, electronic signals that direct our attention, and trigger all array of responses, fear, pleasure, haste, arrival, profit…gosh. I think a home schooling writer, was it John Taylor Gattho? – I can’t remember, who wrote that one of the functions of compulsory public school was to teach students to respond to ‘the bell’….to electric peeps….it really makes you wonder. The feed back loop that is designed into our social media….a kind of call and response….is so uncannily similar to the ancient instinct you describe…

    How grateful I am to have encountered your work.


  • Elizabeth Andrea Marshall says:

    Hello Jon,

    Chirp chirpee chirp . . . I’ve gotten the term “deep nature connection” from you & use it quite alot. Nice to know that it came to you through the idea of “deep bird language”. I’ve finished my social work masters and am working for a non profit mental health clinic with semi rural ghetto (not an oxymoron) youth and families. Weaving in deep nature connection, yoga, ancestral and empowerment approach where and when I can. The clinic is nervous about sanctioning me to use “alternative” approaches, even as I argue these are “evidence based” approaches. I could use a stockpile of deep nature connection evidence based research articles (peer reviewed preferably) if you could send me links. I would like to bring these aspects together as a holistic healing modality for mental health: individual and community to those who are most disadvantaged and are living a war zone sequalae of internalized oppression, deeply severed from thier ancestral roots by the atrocity of slavery. I have many ideas about ways to bring deep healing: would like to collaborate on creating something to the tune of “Panther Tracks” (Black Panther) that could be like the boyscouts and girlscouts, but for the ghetto (like Coyote Tracks for the ghetto), but one w/ foundational skills that are Afrocentric (not to exclude Native American or what is universal – but you get my drift – that rift from Mother Africa needs to be healed & integrated with the experience on this land. There are large grants available from the NIH alternative mental health branch to investigate holistic mental approaches. I am considering trying to coordinate one of those with my mental health clinic in a way that is win win (regenerative) for all parties: the clinic, the community, the clients, the practitioners. The grants for the research are between $300,000 – $500,000 per year for 3 – 5 years. Would you be interested in collaborating on this?

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