Synopses & Reviews
Following one of the world's experts on birdsong from the woods of Martha's Vineyard to the tropical forests of Central America, Don Stap brings to life the quest to unravel an ancient mystery: Why do birds sing and what do their songs mean? We quickly discover that one question leads to another. Why does the chestnut-sided warbler sing one song before dawn and another after sunrise? Why does the brown thrasher have a repertoire of two thousand songs when the chipping sparrow has only one? And how is the hermit thrush able to sing a duet with itself, producing two sounds simultaneously to create its beautiful, flutelike melody?
Stap's lucid prose distills the complexities of the study of birdsong and unveils a remarkable discovery that sheds light on the mystery of mysteries: why young birds in the suborder oscines -- the "true songbirds" -- learn their songs but the closely related suboscines are born with their songs genetically encoded. As the story unfolds, Stap contemplates our enduring fascination with birdsong, from ancient pictographs and early Greek soothsayers, who knew that bird calls represented the voices of the gods, to the story of Mozart's pet starling.
In a modern, noisy world, it is increasingly difficult to hear those voices of the gods. Exploring birdsong takes us to that rare place -- in danger of disappearing forever -- where one hears only the planet's oldest music.
"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. Agent, John Taylor Williams." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Don Stap's first work of nonfiction was A Parrot Without a Name. Currently professor of English at the University of Central Florida, he is a frequent contributor to Audubon magazine and has also written for Smithsonian, Travel and Leisure, and The New York Times.