Synopses & Reviews
Companion audio files are available at www.hmhbooks.com/whattherobinknows
A lifelong birder, tracker, and naturalist, Jon Young is guided in his work and teaching by three basic premises: the robin, junco, and other songbirds know everything important about their environment, be it backyard or forest; by tuning in to their vocalizations and behavior, we can acquire much of this wisdom for our own pleasure and benefit; and the birds' companion calls and warning alarms are just as important as their songs.
Birds are the sentriesand#8212;and our key to understanding the world beyond our front door. Unwitting humans create a zone of disturbance that scatters the wildlife. Respectful humans who heed the birds acquire an awareness that radically changes the dynamic. We are welcome in their habitat. The birds don't fly away. The larger animals don't race off. No longer hapless intruders, we now find, see, and engage the deer, the fox, the red-shouldered hawkand#8212;even the elusive, whispering wren.
Deep bird language is an ancient discipline, perfected by Native peoples the world over. Finally, science is catching up. This groundbreaking book unites the indigenous knowledge, the latest research, and the author's own experience of four decades in the field to lead us toward a deeper connection to the animals and, in the end, a deeper connection to ourselves.
"Kroodsma, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, shares what he's learned from more than three decades of recording and analyzing the songs of birds in this intriguing, instructional book. Using 'sonagrams' (also known as sound spectrograms, they plot a sound's frequency over time), he illustrates the songs of 30 birds, from the familiar American robin to the exotic three-wattled bellbird of Costa Rica. He considers how birds acquire their songs (some species learn them; others have their tunes 'encoded somehow in nucleotide sequences of the DNA'), what makes the songs unique, what functions they serve, and how they've evolved. No two species sound alike, of course, but groups of birds within each species have their own dialects, and individual birds have their own repertoires as well. A CD of the bird songs discussed is included, as are descriptions of the recording equipment Kroodsma used and explanations on how to make similar recordings and 'sonagrams.' Kroodsma is a warm, encouraging guide to the world of birdsong, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Illus. Agent, Russ Galen. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This book will enhance our own ability to learn what the nestlings learn."- Birding Business "Donand#8217;t tell lifelong birder Jon Young that robins are boring. He can sit still in his yard, watching and listending for the moment when robins and other birds no longer perceive him as a threat. Then he can begin to hear what the birds say to each other, warning about nearby hawks, cats, or competitors. Youngand#8217;s book will teach you how you, too, can understand birds and their fascinating behaviors." - BirdWatching "A sophisticated guide for amateur bird watchers and a door-opener for newbies." - Kirkus "Though primarily geared toward birders and naturalists rather than lay readers, this passionate instruction manual offers enjoyable anecdotes." - Publishers Weeklyand#12288;
The Singing Life of Birds is a fascinating read for anyone who yearns to understand the hidden dramas unfolding in his or her own back yard. Through highly personal stories, Donald Kroodsma puts the reader inside the mind of a research scientist to explore how and why birds sing and how we can better understand them through their songs. He deals with such questions as: How does an individual acquire its songs — are they innate and encoded in the DNA, or are they learned — and why? How and why do songs of individuals differ from place to place? Why do birds expend so much effort in singing, often with such complex or beautiful songs? And why does only the male usually sing? Read about robins and wrens, whip-poor-wills and woodcocks, thrushes and thrashers, flycatchers and sparrows, and many others as Kroodsma reveals the singing lives of birds.
The book includes a compact disc with recordings that have been carefully chosen to illustrate how, when, why, and where birds sing and to encourage readers to listen with an inquisitive mind.
Through highly personal stories, Kroodsma puts the reader inside the mind of a research scientist to explore how and why birds sing and how people can better understand them through their songs. Includes an audio CD of birdsongs.
Listen to birds sing as you've never listened before, as the world-renowned birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma takes you on personal journeys of discovery and intrigue.
Read stories of wrens and robins, thrushes and thrashers, warblers and whip-poor-wills, bluebirds and cardinals, and many more birds. Learn how each acquires its songs, how songs vary from bird to bird and place to place, how some birds' singing is especially beautiful or ceaseless or complex, how some do not sing at all, how the often quiet female has the last word, and why.
Hear a baby wren and the author's own daughter babble as each learns its local dialect. Listen to the mockingbird by night and by day and count how many different songs he can sing. Marvel at the exquisite harmony in the duet of a wood thrush as he uses his two voice boxes to accompany himself.
Feel the extraordinary energy in the songs just before sunrise as dawn's first light sweeps across this singing planet. Hear firsthand the unmistakable evidence that there are not one but two species of marsh wrens and two species of winter wrens in North America. Learn not only to hear but to see birds sing in the form of sonagrams, as these visual images dance across the pages while you listen to the accompanying CD.
Using your trained ears and eyes, you can begin your own journeys of discovery. Listen anew to birds in your backyard and beyond, exploring the singing minds of birds as they tell all that they know. Join Kroodsma not only in identifying but in identifying with singing birds, connecting with nature's musicians in a whole new way.
How understanding bird language and behavior can help us to see more wildlife.
About the Author
A retired biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Donald Kroodsma's work on bird song is legendary. His book The Singing Life of Birds won the 2006 John Burroughs Medal Award and the American Birding Association's Robert Ridgway Distinguished Service Award for excellence in publications pertaining to field ornithology. In 2003 the American Ornithologits' Union called him the "reigning authority on the biology of avian vocal behavior." Kroodsma received his Ph.D. at Oregon State University and has traveled all over North and South America researching bird song. He is a Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union and the Animal Behavior Society and has published hundreds of academic and popular articles.
Table of Contents
Contents Preface ix
1. BEGINNINGS 1 Hearing and Seeing Bird Sounds 1 The Bewickand#8217;s Wren 10 The American Robin 23 Good Listening, Good Questions, This Book 37
2. HOW SONGS DEVELOP 42 Introduction 42 Learning Songs:Where,When, and from Whom 44 The White-crowned Sparrow 44 The Song Sparrow 55 Borrowed Songs: Mimicry 68 The Northern Mockingbird 68 Songs That Arenand#8217;t Learned 79 Tyrant Flycatchers: Alder and Willow Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebe 79 Why Some Species Learn and Others Donand#8217;t 89 The Three-wattled Bellbird 89 The Sedge Wren 102
3. DIALECTS: How and Why Songs Vary from Place to Place 119 The Great Marsh Wren Divide 120 The Black-capped Chickadee 135 The Chestnut-sided Warbler 145 Travels with Towhees, Eastern and Spotted 157 The Tufted Titmouse 165
4. EXTREMES OF MALE SONG 177 Introduction 177 Songbirds without a Song 179 The Blue Jay 179 Songbirds with Especially Complex Songs 191 The Brown Thrasher 191 The Sage Thrasher 202 The Winter Wren 214 Songbirds with Especially Beautiful Songs 225 The Bachmanand#8217;s Sparrow 225 The Wood Thrush 237 The Hermit Thrush 255 Music to Our Ears 267 Songs on the Wing 276 The American Woodcock 276 Tireless Singers 287 The Whip-poor-will 287 The Red-eyed Vireo 297
5. THE HOUR BEFORE THE DAWN 304 The Eastern Wood-Pewee 304 Chipping and Brewerand#8217;s Sparrows 313 The Eastern Bluebird 325
6. SHE ALSO SINGS 335 The Barred Owl 336 The Carolina Wren 346 The Northern Cardinal 357
Appendix I: Bird Sounds on the Compact Disc 366
Appendix II: Techniques 402
Appendix III: Taxonomic List of Species Names 411
Notes and Bibliography 415