Natural Soundscape

Male downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).  Hugh Crandall, Mar-1968
Male downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens).

Hugh Crandall (NPS Photo)

In most cases, visitors to our national parks are likely to relate visual experiences when asked what they recall about their visit. They describe what they saw. Often, however, our other senses of hearing, touching, and smelling can contribute to our park experience. Hearing the songs and calls of birds; hearing the rush of water cascading down waterfalls; or hearing the rustle of parched leaves of the fall in the wind all contribute to our experiences. These sounds are generally referred to as the soundscape.

Soundscapes are important natural features of national parks. Besides contributing to the visitor experience they may be indicative of natural resource conditions. Wildlife may use particular sounds during courtship and mating or other behaviors which all make up the acoustic ecology of the area. Sudden sounds stem from trees or branches falling or when rock slides occur. Burning leaves and wood give off crackling and hissing sounds. Natural sounds may also be indicative of a given season. For instance, the songs and calls of birds may only be present during spring or fall migrations indicating their transient presence.

The soundscapes of parks should be valued by visitors. Most visitors live in locations where they do not experience the sounds of natural settings. Instead, their soundscapes are dominated by the sounds of human activity - motor vehicle traffic, airplane traffic, sirens of emergency vehicles, construction equipment operation, and so forth. Even in park settings, these sounds are sometimes present.

Park staff members here at Shenandoah are concerned about soundscapes particularly as they relate to wilderness experiences. By agency policy and legal requirements of the Wilderness Act, specific measures are taken to eliminate or greatly reduce the opportunity for visitors to encounter the sounds of motorized equipment while in the wilderness.

Next time you are in Shenandoah, step away from

Skyline Drive , the lodges, and visitor centers and take stock of the natural sounds around you. Your park experience will be enhanced.

You may be interested in reading about Unnatural Sounds and Noise (need to hot link this to the Profile titled Soundscapes/Noise) Shenandoah as well.

Related Information

Useful references related to soundscapes are:

Krause, B. 2002. Wild Soundscapes, Discovering the voice of the natural world. Wilderness Press,

Berkeley , California .

Krause, B.L. Wild Soundscapes in the National Parks: An Educational Program Guide to Listening and Recording. October 2002

Listen to the call of a Downy Woodpecker (USGS - PWRC)
Helpful websites related to this topic include:

Nature Sounds Society

Library of Natural Sounds, Cornell University

National Park Service Soundscape Website

Earth and Sky Radio Program

Listing of these websites does not and is not intended to imply endorsement by the National Park Service of commercial services or products associated with the site.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


(540) 999-3500

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