COVID-19 Lockdowns: Birds Singing, Flamingoes Flocking, Dolphins Dancing, Cleaner Air and Water

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Spring has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and many urban dwellers can hear a pleasant cacophony: the sound of birdsong that’s often obscured by the roar of city life.

Today is International Dawn Chorus Day for hearing birdsong. Dawn is the best time day  to hear birds trilling, so if you weren’t aware of this event, you may have missed that high point. But  that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the sound of birdsong: maybe not at dawn, but later in the day; maybe not today, but tomorrow or later during the week. And it’s not just city dwellers who can enjoy  the sound, either, as Country Living notes, Good news! The dawn chorus is louder and clearer than it has been in decades, thanks to lockdown.

I’m well aware when birds start to arrive in springtime. My husband often heads the few short blocks from our house to Prospect Park to observe the spring bird migration. I would imagine that many non-birders would be surprised to learn that Central Park is a major stop on spring migration routes – and hosts a knowledgeable and lively birding community. It’s not just in New York city that birds have found niches, As yesterday’s Guardian noted:

Globally, city wildlife is doing rather well too. Red-tailed hawks – the North American equivalent of our buzzard – nest on the ledges of high-rise skyscrapers in New York; magnificent frigatebirds drift over the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, their outstretched wings mirroring his own pose; lesser kestrels – one of Europe’s rarest birds of prey – gather above Seville’s vast cathedral; and pied kingfishers hover like giant black-and-white butterflies over the River Nile in Cairo. All have found a niche where they can thrive in the heart of our cities.

The birds are there, in our cities, it’s just that this year, we can hear them singing so much more clearly.

Mumbai: Massive Flocks of Flamingoes 

I don’t know very much about Mumbai and migrating flamingoes – although I have spent time watching these birds in Kutch, in Gujarat, at both the Great and Little Ranns, during many months of the year. That Indian state houses some of my favourite wildlife sanctuaries, where I imagine the lockdown really hasn’t affected the natural ebb and flow of  birdlife. One can see birds, wild asses in Dasada, and even leopards and Asiatic lions in Gir National Park – the sole remaining place in the world they still live.

But the Indian lockdown – one of the strictest in the world, now extended through the 18th of May, with some relaxations – has left the city of Mumbai (Bombay) to the birds, as people shelter inside, since unlike most places elsewhere, getting exercise is not an allowable excuse to leave one’s dwelling.

Flamingoes migrate through Mumbai every year, and indeed, their number has been increasing, but this year, they’ve arrived in even greater numbers, as The Print reports. Absent the presence  of their normal human competitors, the massive flocks of flamingoes are more conspicuous.

Along with many if not most readers, I share deep despair over the deluge of depressing COVID-19 news. Please permit me to share a couple of joyous videos, which lifted my mood a bit:

Cleaner Environment

The flamingoes are not the only natural benefit to India during this lockdown. The principal cities – Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata,  New Delhi, Mumbai – are seeing air quality not glimpsed in decades. I have an elderly friend who lives in Kolkata who suffers from COPD> Mitrada is breathing much easier this year, along with everyone else in the country. Spare a minute to click on this link, as it reports some stunning information, India Witnesses Significant Drop in Pollution Levels Due to Lockdown, Reveals Satellite Data – which is preliminary, and only  accounts for the very beginning of the lockdown through April. Whereas  it is now May, and lockdown continues.

It’s not just better air quality and flamingoes in Mumbai, but India has seen at least two other environmental changes, according to India Today: dolphins near the Kolkata ghats, and water fit for drinking from the river Ganges near Haridwar. The dolphins have been spotted for the first tie in thirty years, according to the Times of India:

The sighting of South Asian River Dolphins is extremely rare these days, but thanks to the reduced water pollution, these beautiful creatures decided to show up on the shores and say hello to the city dwellers. A few days back, a number of reports surfaced, claiming the water quality of the Hoogly river in Kolkata has improved given the current lockdown situation. During this time, several endangered mammals were spotted in the city outskirts.

And now, the spotting of Gangetic dolphins has brought happiness to the city. Some 30 years back, spotting these water animals wasn’t an unusual occurrence. They used to be a regular visitor to the Kolkata ghats, but gradually, due to industrial pollution, these drifted away from the city.

According to the reports, the worldwide population of Gangetic dolphins is somewhere between 1200 to 1800. In an interview with TOI, Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, a senior environmental activist said that he spotted a couple of dolphins at Babughat in Kolkata. He said that due to the nationwide lockdown and lesser human activities, the quality of water has improved drastically and this is “one of the main reasons that the dolphins are coming back”.

And it’s not just India that’s seen a healthier environment.Lockdowns have allowed nature to move quickly to counteractsome of the damage humans have done. The Guardian again:

As well as the advantage of less hustle, bustle and extraneous noise from traffic and aircraft, the skies are clearer too, because air pollution has fallen dramatically. In Venice, the canals are clear and blue for the first time in decades, allowing fish and birds to thrive. The next step might be to cut light pollution at night: leaving lights blazing in empty offices and other commercial buildings is not only wasteful, but helps drive the climate crisis. It also seriously impacts wildlife, especially moths, bats and migrating birds, which can get disoriented by artificial light sources as they travel by night.

I wonder: how much and how many of these benefits will survive?

Yes, I am well aware that audible birdsong, dancing dolphins, and cleaner air and water have come at tremendous economic cost. Which has not only been endured so far, but which will continue to cause future suffering.

Still, I shall breathe in the air deeply – and enjoy the chorus of birdsong and the thought of dolphins cavorting again near Kolkata’s ghats.

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  1. Pym of Nantucket

    It will be very difficult admitting that humanity itself is the main problem for the planet. Efforts will be made to find positive narrative for the coming cognitive dissonance. Humans as the cancer in the organism is simply the best metaphor for this.

    If you are a cancer cell, cancer is great. Growth, expansion, more resource use, sky’s the limit…

    1. a different chris

      It may not be difficult at all for 90+ percent of us. But it won’t make any difference. We have had Stockholm Syndrome, but if that does pass – well the underlying thing about Stockholm Syndrome is with or without it you are still a prisoner.

    2. periol

      I’m imagining dark smoky rooms where the cancer cell executive officers (CCEOs) meet and go over the figures for YOY growth, look at lagging sectors, examine district fundamentals, and then set the expansion goals for the next quarter. Probably going to need to implement some means-testing and infrastructure spending to keep growth on track, maybe some targeted resource allocation and redistribution to their biggest supporters.

      Meanwhile there are some rebellious cancer cells that are starting to get the sense that it’s possible infinite growth models can’t work if the world they inhabit is finite. You can even hear the arguments if you strain: “We can’t keep growing forever, we’re going to kill the host.”

      The CCEOs have large organizations to manage and can’t be bothered with the naysayers. “This is the way we’ve always done it, and this is the way we’re going to keep doing it.”

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        And as Larry Summers told Elizabeth Warren, who clearly took the lesson to heart, if you want to be in the room where the decisions are made, you must never publicly critique or dissent.

      2. rd

        I think this is going to be one of the years (2008 was another) when the CCEOs look at the “forecasts” and demand that their staff meeting them regardless of the coming of the end of the world. Similar to 2008, I think most of them find they are pushing on a rope. If there is no demand, it is hard ot sell the supply. In years like this, you can do all the “Mad Men” selling you want, but the buying will be sparse.

        Las Vegas can demand to open, but will anybody show up? Disney is unlikely to even try with their theme parks. I think TV money will still be there for sports that can be played without spectators, but the team and player contracts are going to be all out of whack. Movie theater? What’s a movie theater? But drive-ins could be hot and easy to set up for a couple of years (back to the 50s!).

        Restaurants and bars need more than 50% seating at their peak times, so social distancing is likely fatal to most of their business models. I hope chefs etc. can find something to do for a year or two.

        Since the US decided to let other countries manufacture, well everything, and become a services economy focused on selling to consumers means that the decline of tourism, restaurants, and bars will put a lot of people of work for a couple of years.That will ripple through demand everywhere in the economy.

  2. Cynthia Gallant-Simpson

    Nature is us. Nature is all. As one tiny offspring of her magnificence, we alone developed cognitive powers that led us to assume that homo sapiens were top dogs. That we could have everything we wanted which included messing with Nature, altering her, and demanding that she bend to our wills.
    The virus is natural, i.e. an aspect of Nature. The misogynists who contrived the Bible told humans that their contrived god gave them dominance over everything, the other creatures, and the Earth itself. Such power went to their heads and they proceeded to eliminate species they considered inferior. They pushed as far as they could against every aspect of Nature from the earth’s crust to the air, the water, as they rearranged it all for their own convenience.
    Well, Nature has had enough. Humans are the scourge on the planet. Everything Nature gave to homo sapiens is in danger because of their arrogance. Is it any wonder that she finally said, ENOUGH!

  3. furies


    Maybe it’s alright that my fellow (redneck) amuricuns, the ones toting rifles, don’t give a crap about anyone but themselves and their ‘freedums’…maybe it’s OK that millions of us die.

    It might be a sacrifice worth making.

    I sure am tired of sacrificing tho…

    1. JBird4049

      What is it that compels this pernicious animus against those who are the least responsible for many problems like political corruption, pollution, pernicious climate change, mass extinction, police brutality, economic collapse, COVID19, endemic and increasing poverty all here in the United States of America?

      Seriously, what is this bigotry about these millions of supposedly evil American racist, redneck gun fanatics who are somehow responsible for the often lethal economic violence perpetrated by the American elites? The very Americans who have been abandoned by the elites to increasingly desolate economic wastelands? Who have no savings and nothing to fall back on?

      To be fair, many of the Disposable Americans also hold just as stupidly bigoted and poisonous opinions about liberal and leftist Americans. It must make the powerbrokers very happy for the dividing and conquering is still working.

  4. semiconscious

    “Yes, I am well aware that audible birdsong, dancing dolphins, and cleaner air and water have come at tremendous economic cost. Which has not only been endured so far, but which will continue to cause future suffering…”

    as in, millions condemned to living in uncertainty as to where the the money for food/rent will be coming from over the coming weeks/months? that kind of ‘tremendous economic cost’? indeed. let us never forget that, beneath the lovely bird song, there’s an extraordinary amount of human suffering being inflicted by this lockdown…

    1. HotFlash

      Please remember that the suffering is a *DIRECT *result of policy decisions, not the lockdown. It is the US government — your corrupt congress specifically — which almost alone in the world has condemned its citizens to immiseration. As an example of responsible government, I offer Canada.

    2. Rod

      and the cost of our economies to the natural world??
      the natural world is raising a cacophony to the Human’s Economy and we are mostly deaf to it.

  5. Oso

    thank you for this. there is beauty everywhere if you seek it out, and a blessing to recognize this. There is a sacred site near our home here in the bay area, my daughter and i went to sit alongside the waters there. we each laid down some tobacco and thanked Creator for their gifts. we asked earth mother to guide a friends father to the afterlife. enjoying beauty is a gift in itself.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    There is a lot of evidence that background noise from traffic and industry has quite a significant impact on bird breeding. It will be interesting to see if this quiet spring has helped many species have a fecund year.

    1. juno mas

      There is also personal (anecdotal) evidence that noise from traffic and the machines of industry have significant impact on human well-being. Can we stop the car alarms, honking, screeching tires, and interminable cacophony of sirens and grinders for a few more weeks, at least?! More people on bikes, even inconsiderate speedsters on e-bikes. Ah, the return of the sound of the wind in the trees and surf against the sand has been delicious!

      1. polecat

        It interesting that you bring up motorized noise. With everyone ‘home’, the sounds of mowers & weedwackers* was quite apparent to me, as I wailed away with my hand-mattock whilst weeding the polecat domicile. I have noticed that since ‘lockdown’ started, more people are doing home/yard improvement, not just in our hood, but all over town!

        *I do own an electric weed eater, which is used but twice .. maybe three times tops, between May and July. Otherwise, it’s all manual labors on my part. In spite of the constant work in maintaining garden narvana, I’ve no intent to ever go the way of ‘the Castle Green’!

        One thing that I’ve noticed, is that the various local neodinosaurs which frequent our oasis are much drawn to the sounds of a different sort – the cooling gurgle of our backyard staycation water fountain. Quite a sight to have the blackcapped chickadees and honeybees both doing their respective activities, bathing and drinking. Neither of which mind each other .. nor our close gravity-chaired presence.

  7. verifyfirst

    Not to mention vast increases in people biking down my little street, and couples and families out walking, often with the dog. It’s nice, I’ve never even seen most of these people before.

    1. Polar Donkey

      Same here with so many people walking dogs, their kids, jogging, bike riding. I still don’t see many school age kids yet. Perhaps they are lost to phones, tvs, video games forever. Hopefully, they get bored and go outside too. Aside, from a few strong storms, the spring weather has been perfect in my part of the south. We are on round 2 of robins having babies. Have seen more pairs of cardinals too.

  8. HotFlash

    Yes, I am well aware that audible birdsong, dancing dolphins, and cleaner air and water have come at tremendous economic cost.

    This is how it will have to be in order to even slightly address global climate change. The is a global reset, we will never have a better or more timely opportunity to save all life on this planet. We must *not* go back to ‘groaf’, to economic activity with its resource plundering and soul-crushing human servitude for the sake of profits for a few people who don’t need more money. We do not have to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves at the price of this beautiful planet. Now that I do consider a ‘tremendous cost’.

    1. Krystyn Podgajski

      This might not be the best thing to halt a warming planet. There are three early heat waves right now; India, Europe, United States. It is possible that the lack of aerosols and particulates being released is causing a more rapid rate of short term global warming. I will admit it is frightening me, but I am still glad to see other species getting some breathing room for once.

      1. periol

        If so, then it was going to happen at some point or other. Better now, while there might still be a chance of avoiding biosystem collapse, no? Like ripping off a band-aid quickly- in this case almost literally.

        1. Krystyn Podgajski

          No, I am afraid it might mean total environmental collapse. If the conveyor of water in the Atlantic stops recirculating warm water from the tropics because of this I hate to see what happens because that will also add to global warming.

          1. periol

            If it means total environmental collapse now then it always meant total environmental collapse later as well. One way or another, eventually the machines would go silent.

            Perhaps you’re right, and global dimming is the trigger for a catastrophic stage of climate weirding – I’m watching the Arctic melt season with interest. I still say our chances are better now than if we tried to do the same thing in ten years, with an additional .5-1C degrees of warming and ten more years of CO2 pumping added on to where we are now.

            We may be too far gone, but I’ve been wanting this to happen badly for 30 years, and I’m certainly looking forward to see if we can make this last, and if maybe just perhaps this coronavirus made us start turning the machines off just in time.

            The only way out of the death spiral is to turn off the machines. The question is, did we turn them off in time?

            1. Krystyn Podgajski

              Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, better to shut them down now rather than later. And I am glad it happened as well. Just hoping it is not too late. This is all reminding me of the plot of Snowpiercer though…

              1. periol

                Can’t lie, this virus has breathed a tiny spark of hope into me that we can avoid total collapse. I thought perhaps you were advocating for a slow decline in industrial output to ease our way into global dimming, but honestly the longer we draw it out the worse it gets – and the dimming effect will still be there when we finally do turn the machines off.

                As I said, I’m watching the Arctic with interest. It seems like the ozone hole has closed for the time being, but there has been a consistent and troubling export of some older, thick ice over the past month. It is unusual, normally we would expect to see younger, thinner ice being exported. The weather patterns have been strange. The extent numbers don’t look worse than the last few years yet, but there are serious warning signs.

                If we do get a global dimming temp bump I would expect to see some unusual wind events start popping up. I think we’re going to see some weird weather this summer.

  9. Monty

    One other benefit has been the lack of school shootings in the US.

    Is anyone else a bit concerned that AR15 wielding gunmen marched into Michigan’s State House demanding they Reopen℠ the schools, as part of their “get back to work” protest?

  10. Max

    I’ve noticed more birdsong! I thought it was just because I’ve been spending more time at home.

  11. chuck roast

    It actually stopped raining last Saturday, and the local and near-local humans burst forth in a frenzy of sun worshipping…cooties be damned. I got on my ancient Woodrup and pedaled out to a nearby beach and bird sanctuary. Having given up on trying to climb a hill I wandered into a field of about 20 acres. It was studded with birdhouses on poles about six feet from the ground and 25 feet apart. Birds were sitting on top of their little houses and swopping everywhere. They were a beautiful royal blue with white breasts. The kind of blue that no artist could ever match. I thought that they were swallows, but they were kind of stubby and slow where swallows are slim and speedy. I later checked my bird book and surfed the web a bit and pinned them down as house martins. A lovely spring day indeed.

    1. HotFlash

      Oh, purple martins! Fascinating creatures. There is even a Purple Martin Landlord Society. This page on purple martin houses includes a video from the Northwest Tx chapter. Martin houses are apartment-style as the martins like to have lots of neighbours, at least they are here in the midwest and seem to be in TX. I have heard that west coast martins, despite being the same species, prefer single-family dwellings. What did you see?

      PS seems they are seriously threatened, partly be competition from non-native species, sparrows and starlings. Seems like a pattern… Just once before I die, I would like to see a bluebird.

  12. ChrisPacific

    My favourite local lockdown bird story so far was this one – a leucistic silvereye sighting, with photos. It is quite a striking little bird (you can see the normal coloration in a photo at the end).

    There have also been reports of (common) native birds enjoying themselves in the newly vacated CBD, as well as a (rare) native falcon preying on them.

    1. Synoia

      Was the falcon retained by the financial sector? Or an independent contractor?

  13. Jen

    This afternoon I took a drive out to see my dad. We’re both pretty isolated so it’s not much of a risk. Had to wash my windshield twice because of bug splats. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

  14. Jim Matranga

    Last night a friend commented that the local birds seem less afraid of people. The guy next to him stated that canal water in Venice Italy was so clear that people are noticing fish and even large jelly fish swimming by. This reminded me of the article a week back on how clearing skies in India are allowing the Himalayas to be visible from Mumbai for the first time in 30 years. Seems I’m seeing more and more evidence in print and online of this by-product of the lock down. And now this article.
    Might these happenings indicate a more human way of measuring pollution levels, rather than, the usual, kj/ton or whatever, of this or that poison, etc..?
    It’s a measuring regime people can see and feel and breathe.
    It’s also something anybody can recognize in the here and now.

  15. Idiocracy

    The rednecks are inheriting the world, while the yuppies are too scared to come out of their condoms, unless uncle Bill blesses them with his magical
    vaccine. What a wonderful world to live in.

  16. Judith

    I saw and heard my first Baltimore Oriole of the year yesterday morning. I have noticed a lot more people birding and posting on ebird since the pandemic started.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      CO2 increases cumulatively, it goes up even if there is a 90% cut in emissions.

  17. Winston Smith

    A golf course near my home is like a bird sanctuary…with a large pond within it, turtles, ducks and a heron can be observed at leisure. All within urban confines.

  18. John Richmond

    In Richmond Va we have seen increases in both human and animal wildlife. We have never seen so many people outside running and bicycling. There is a great increase anecdotally in the number of songbirds out and about. We retain the annual handful of two of bears that use the James River Park System trail system to emerge downtown, wide-eyed, as if they’d emerged out of the 7 for the first time in Flushing Chinatown or at the other end in Times Square (I remember both though the Flushing memory has more clarity).

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