Sunday, August 24, 2008

In Review---Singing Birds

Book Review
Why Birds Sing
David Rothenberg
Penguin/Allen Lane

I come from a family of bird enthusiasts. This year for my birthday, my sister surprised me with David Rothenberg's amusing and informative book, Why Birds Sing. Rothenberg marries his musical and philosophical talents with an unusual quest.

Yet, he is not alone since he cites scientists, poets and others who also took similar quests at one point or another. Rothenberg takes us through a little history of songbird science as well as, noting improvements in technology that still for whatever reason, cannot fathom why birds sing. Do they sing for pleasure? Possibly. Do they enjoy the music of humans? Possibly.

Rothenberg explores mimics of the bird kingdom from the common starling, (were you aware of the talent of this bird?), to the less common Albert's Lyrebird of Australia. We learn a little about finches, mockingbirds, canaries and blackbirds, among others. And in this fascinating quest, we might find ourselves probing further by testing out our own theories with backyard birds.

Complete with diagrams, notations of bird songs, sonograms and drawings of birds, the songs of the nightingale, mockingbird, canary and blackbird have become even more intriguing if not mysterious. No wonder so many human vocalists have been compared to nightingales and canaries. And at least one Beatle composed a song about blackbirds. Then there was Saint Francis of Assisi who most likely knew why birds sung during his time...