Birdsong is the latest viral TikTok sound
The sound of a mourning dove is resurfacing a shared nostalgia on the app.
“She’s an icon, she’s a legend, and she is the moment.” —me, Kate, to the nearest mourning dove.
There’s a type of comment that often appears under extremely specific TikTok videos that is usually some variation on, “I’ve never had a unique experience.” It’s a reaction inspired by videos depicting some type of human behavior or memory that the viewer didn’t realize was so widely shared.
With over one billion monthly users on TikTok, it shouldn’t be surprising how frequently I run into these reminders. That doesn’t mean I can’t be amazed, however, when the app manages to resurface yet another experience I didn’t even realize was buried in my subconscious. Most recently, it was a simple birdsong.
Sitting with the sound as it plays—a languid coo-oo and then two to three more purposeful coos—I immediately see the bright blue sky above the house I grew up in in Pennsylvania. It’s summer break and I’m not outside for any particular reason. I’m also not paying much attention to the birdsong at all. In fact, it’s almost certainly on the periphery of whatever dog-chasing or sunbathing or pretend-playing I was doing all those years ago. I didn’t even realize I was perceiving the sound, and had no idea it would remain with me, underneath the surface, until TikTok unearthed it 15 years later.
The sound is from a mourning dove, and it shouldn’t be surprising that a bunch of people (enough to generate over 15 million TikTok views, to be exact) in America are familiar with it, because its range map looks like this:
Nevertheless, TikTok has deemed it the soundtrack of suburban childhood, where the world outside your window is quiet enough not only for you to hear it, but for it to still be heard in the background of whatever far more interesting tween or teenage thing you’re doing. Inspired by the nostalgia it evokes, users are pairing the sound with visual recreations of their childhoods to create an all-encompassing sensory experience.
“POV: it just got warm enough to wear your favorite pair of shorts, it’s field day, and mom promised to check you out of school early,” one of these videos reads.
Another video pairs the song with the sound of a Dell computer booting up. The monitor sits on a desk alongside Sims computer games, a Hilary Duff CD, Fruit by the Foot, and other hallmarks of a later '90s/early 2000s childhood.
Sometimes, the videos get emotional: “This sound just made me realize I haven’t felt real happiness or peace since the last time I heard this sound as a kid super early in the morning,” user Megan Hawks wrote under her reaction. “Now I’m in my own house at 20, 2,000 miles away from home, paying my own bills, in school full time and working. Do the birds stop coming when you’re an adult? This sound feels like a hug.”
The birds don’t stop coming when you’re an adult—there’s a map to prove it. But the question feels like it’s asking more than that, maybe something about why we’ve stopped noticing the birds. But I remember that I didn’t notice the mourning dove as a child, either. Instead, this sound makes me wonder what things I’m not noticing right now. What will a new community, 15 years down the road, resurface that brings me back to my late 20s? I can’t predict it, but I’ll do my best to start listening.