Many things bring me back to my childhood. Think Loony Tunes lunchboxes, glittery gel pens, and those very specific PVA glue applicators that I always associate with that slightly sweet smell.
But recently, a sound brought me right back to my early youth: TikToker freya101freya posted a video with the sound of a wood pigeon’s call, suggesting it’s a sound that’s dear to 2000s kids’ hearts.
And if the comments are anything to go by, it seems it’s hard to find these days.
“Why don’t we hear them [the wood pigeon calls] anymore?” one commenter asked; another waxed lyrical on the memories the sound brought back, saying “The world was alive. The sun felt different on your skin, the wind felt fresh, the trees and grass were bright green. I miss it.”
So, we thought we’d look into why the sound seems so hard to locate now ― and why it could feel so uniquely nostalgic. And ― spoiler alert ― we found some fascinating insight into an odd mid-’90s UK wood pigeon boom.
Let’s talk bird population
Britain’s overall bird population has shrunk significantly ― data shows that the UK bird population has been slashed by as much as 50% over the past 50 years. So much so that gardeners have been discouraged from using pesticides like slug pellets at all, as the birds need something to eat.
But not so with the wood pigeon, the bird whose distinctive call features in the viral video ― or at least, less so.
The British Trust for Ornithology says that ”[the population] trend for this species is of a steady, steep increase since at least the mid-1970s” ― in fact, “Since 1995, BBS has recorded significantly upward trends in the UK.”
While the species’ numbers have levelled out and slightly dipped in recent years, there’s no shortage of the species in most of the UK.
But it could just be that the sudden burst in pigeon population from 1995 onwards ― the year at which children who would experience much of their childhood in the 2000s would start to be born ― heralded an unprecedented wood pigeon boom, and a subsequent burst of wood pigeon calls.
And it would make one user’s comment ― “But why is this just a thing for our generation... why didn’t our parents hear this” make more sense, right?
Well, younger people tend to leave their hometowns for urban areas. So if you grew up in a nature-heavy environment with little noise pollution only to end up in a packed city as an adult, it makes sense that you’d hear the noise less often.
Then, there’s the fact that yes, the world really was brighter as a child. We’ve written before about how, due to ageing, our eyes perceive hues as less vivid when we get older: babies also hear differently to adults, as do children. Perhaps this informed our experience.
Finally, there’s the age of most TikTok users; in the UK as of 2020, most users were in the 15-25 age bracket (in other words, there are plenty of ”’00s kids”). This is, of course, the app on which the phenomenon went viral.
And maybe there’s a bit of the idea that George Eliot talks about in The Mill On The Floss ― “We could never have loved the Earth so well if we had no childhood in it,” the author says. “These well-remembered bird-notes... such things of these are the mother tongue of our imagination, the language that is laden with all the subtle inextricable associations the fleeting hours of our childhood left behind them.”
But to be honest, my money’s on the pigeon boom.