The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Our ReviewBy Pat Leonard
October 15, 2008
Learning to recognize the voices of backyard birds is as easy as pushing a button, thanks to two new books that can literally carry a tune. Donald Kroodsma’s The Backyard Birdsong guides showcase common birds of eastern and western North America using built-in players loaded with birdsong recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. Both guides include sounds for 75 species accompanied by scientifically accurate illustrations and range maps. The books are written by Donald Kroodsma, a visiting fellow at the Lab who has nursed a smoldering passion for birdsong for more than four decades.
“Once people start pushing buttons, they can’t stop!” Kroodsma says of the Backyard Birdsong books. “A CD is wonderful and has great quality, but it doesn’t have the convenience of being able to push a button right now and hear the bird. The technicians worked so hard on taking these songs—supplied by the Macaulay Library—and getting them just right, fitting them into the little electronic modules with a limited memory and then programming them so that they sounded like a real bird singing—a marvelous feat.”
Learning to recognize bird songs is a skill like any other, Kroodsma says—a skill that requires practice. “I described this in the introduction to the Backyard Birdsong books,” he says. “When I hear birds singing I see their songs dancing across the sky in these frequency-time graphs called sonograms—like musical scores for bird song.”
The Backyard Birdsong guides follow the success of their bigger brothers, Bird Songs from Around the World and Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song, both written by Les Beletsky. They also feature built-in players and recordings from the Macaulay Library. So what’s the big deal about birdsong?
“These songs are really a window on the minds of these birds,” says Kroodsma. “Every time a bird opens its bill and says something it’s a window on—I say it loosely—what it’s thinking.” Price: $24.95 each.