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Birdsong Hardcover – March 15, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The field of avian bio-acoustics has dragged birdsong from the domain of poets into the realm of the hard sciences. English professor Stap (A Parrot Without a Name) explores it through this engaging profile of ornithologist Don Kroodsma and his pioneering field studies of birdsong in the wild. Birdsongs are learned rather than instinctual (the brown thrasher has a repertoire of 2,ooo songs), and Stap delves into the complex processes by which birds acquire them, the individual idiosyncrasies and regional dialects that color them, and the mating behaviors and territorial antagonisms they regulate. As he tramps along with ornithologists through the predawn woods in search of early-rising songbirds, Stap crafts an absorbing account of the scientific process itself—of the meticulous, often obsessive lengths to which Kroodsma and his colleagues go to record and analyze these evanescent melodies, and of the bitter methodological controversies between field ornithologists and scientists who prefer controlled but perhaps misleadingly artificial experiments in the laboratory. A lucidly written combination of scientific lore and vivid reportage, the book is a thoughtful treatment of one of nature's most beguiling phenomena.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Why do birds sing? And why do some birds sing complex songs and others repeat the same simple tune? Stap, a frequent contributor to Audubon and other magazines, explores the natural history and science of birdsong as he follows both the birds and the ornithologists studying them. The songbirds are among the few animals on the planet (the others being humans and some cetaceans) that must learn their vocalizations from their parents. The seemingly endless types of birdsong created during this learning process, and through the isolation of birds from their compatriots, produces endless scientific questions to be answered. Stap observes two of the world's experts on birdsong as they attempt to answer these questions, and what follows is a fascinating look at science in action. Along the way we learn that the best research raises as many questions as it answers, and we begin to understand the profound curiosity that drives the best scientists. This excellent book will challenge readers to listen to birds as well as watch them. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (March 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743232747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743232746
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,111,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In his excellent earlier book, Parrot Without a Name, Don Stap traveled with John O'Neill and Ted Parker to Peru to find rare birds. In his new book, Birdsong, he travels with two experts of avian bioacoustics, Don Kroodsma and Greg Budney to hear rare birds. This is a book about bird song (how and why birds sing), however, I also found his portrayal of the two individual scientists fascinating. Although they come from different backgrounds and training, these two men approach bird song with equal passion.

This book takes the reader on an inside tour of the hurdles and obstacles that avian scientists face. Kroosdma, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, is a very thorough scientist who questions conventional thinking. For example, Kroodsma was surprised to hear the bellbird singing three different songs in different regions of Costa Rica. Going against conventional scientific thinking, he suspected that this suboscine bird learned its song (which accounted for the regional variations), which suboscines aren't supposed to do. Rather, they are believed to be born knowing their songs. Stap follows Kroosdma around recording the bellbird to gather evidence to counter the prevailing theory. But even with recordings and considerable scientific evidence, he still was not able to convince a major foundation to fund the study.

Stap also follows Greg Budney, Curator of the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, during a sound recording workshop. Don joins other workshop participants to learn how Greg records bird songs for the Lab, explaining how far Greg will go to get a good recording. While working with Ted Parker, Greg fell into a spiny palm tree and got needlelike thorns jammed into his hand.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a slightly dry, matter-of-fact account of the work of an ardent, academic birdwatcher specializing in Bewick wrens and bellbirds. The author, Don Stap, followed master birder Don Kroodsma off-and-on for ten years as he made his precise accounting of these birds.

There are some sections of the book that give you a feel for what it is really like on the ground, going to often remote, politically troubled locations in an attempt to sight birds. We hear about the difficulties of hooking up with a promised guide in Nicaragua, and the ways in which the team had to rough it failing all amenities. But it seems the birders must have had many more adventures along the way that would have made for really lively reading. I would think you could get a sit-com/drama series of personality conflicts, mishaps, and enlightening nature lore out of these expeditions into the wild. However there isn't quite the necessary narrative flow here, nor the eye for humorous detail, to bring this out.

Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile book. You will learn a lot about banding birds and distinguishing their calls. You will learn a lot about patience and standing still. You will meet birds in their native setting. You will also learn about some of the academic squabbles endemic to the profession, and how much birdwatching is NOT like going out into a primal Eden of harmony and grace.

Most important of all though, this book will alert you to the existence of the Macauley Library of Natural Sounds at Cornell, a repository of nature recordings made by amateurs and professionals from the days of Edison's invention of the recording machine up to the present. In spite of this long history of collecting sounds, there is still a lot more to be collected.
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Format: Hardcover
Supplement Professor Kroodsma's title with Don Stap's survey of how birdsong clues are collected and interpreted by experts in his fascinating Birdsong: A Natural History. Birdsong focuses on the mysteries of birdsong, from how birds learn and develop regional 'dialects' to an even more fascinating set of insights on the influence of birdsong on great musicians. From how bird sounds are captured using sensitive equipment in the wild to exactly what a bird is 'saying' in a 2-3 second song, Stap provides a lively survey indeed.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book to be quite captivating and well-written: fun and easy to read. The author does a good job of communicating his passion for the subject. He weaves a dense narrative including personal stories and anecdotes, basic facts, and discussion of scientific research. The book is a bit of a hodge-podge, and doesn't exactly have a clear beginning, direction, or conclusion, but in many respects, this is reflective of the nature of birdwatching, the study of bird song, and perhaps the nature of bird song itself.

I think anyone with a serious to casual interest in birds or bird song will find this a must-read. It's a quick read, but it contains a lot of interesting and sometimes deep information about a fascinating subject
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