photo of singing House Wren

Some Interesting and Useful Books about Natural Sounds

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Science of Bird Song

Kroodsma, D. E. (2005) The Singing Life of Birds -- The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 482 p. Includes a CD.

I highly recommend this book. Directed at the general birding public, it is an engaging autobiographical introduction to the study of bird song. Kroodsma not only describes our current scientific understanding of many aspects of bird song, but he also describes how he conducts his own field work and shows how to become a more observant listener to singing birds.

Marler, P. and Slabbekoorn, H. (editors) (2004) Nature's Music -- The Science of Birdsong, Elsevier, 512 p. Includes two CD's.

Another excellent book. Directed at undergraduate and graduate students, and accessible to birders with an interest in biology. It contains fourteen chapters, each written by a leading expert on a major aspect of birdsong investigation. Topics range from birdsong evolution and ecology to the neurobiology of birdsong.

Catchpole, C.K., and Slater, P.J.B. (1995) Bird Song -- Biological Themes and Variations, Cambridge University Press, 248 p.

An excellent introduction to the biology of birdsong. Written for undergraduate and graduate students, it is accessible to birders with some knowledge of biology. It is full of interesting information, but is not as comprehensive as Marler and Slabbekoorn nor as engaging as Kroodsma.

Stokes, D. and Stokes, L., (1979) A Guide to Bird Behaviour, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 3 vols.

Directed at the general birding public. Each volume deals with the behavior of twenty-five species of North American birds. Although these books are more than twenty-five years old, they provide a lot of useful information about bird songs and calls in relation to bird behavior. They are still in print.

Kroodsma, D.E., and Miller, E.H. (eds) (1996) Ecology and Evolution of Acoustic Communication in Birds, Cornell University Press, 587 p.

Written for scientists. Twenty-five chapters by experts on learning and development of birdsong, repertoires, changes in song over time and space, control and recognition of vocalizations, and behavior of communicating.

Zeigler, H.P. and Marler, P. (eds) (2004) Behavioral Neurobiology of Birdsong, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol 1016, 788 pages.

Written for scientists. Proceedings of a meeting held in 2002. Contains a wealth of information on the neural control of birdsong and related subjects.

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Birdsong in the liberal arts

Rothenberg, D. (2005) Why Birds Sing -- A Journey into the Mystery of Birdsong, Basic Books, New York, 258 p.

Rothenberg, a philosopher and musician who has played music with birds, explores the idea that birds sometimes sing because they like to make music, and not just to hold territory or attract a mate. He discusses the current scientific understanding of bird song and the limitations of the scientific approach.

Powers, A. (2003) BirdTalk -- Conversations with Birds, Frog, Ltd, Berkeley, 195 p.

Powers, an English professor, 'talks to birds' -- that is, he whistles to them in imitation and listens to how they reply. He uses this practice as the springboard for discussions and digressions on birds, our assumptions about animal consciousness, and birds in music and literature. An engaging and enjoyable book, but not always accurate ornithologically.

Mathews, F.S. (1904) Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music, Applewood Books, New Bedford, MA, 262 p. (A modern reprint of the original)

A classic of its genre. Originally intended as an aid to bird identification, it attempts to describe bird songs using standard musical notation. Often relates the songs to motifs from classical music and opera.

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Insects and amphibians

Elliott, L. and Hershberger, W. (2007) The Songs of Insects, Houghton Mifflin Co., 227 pp. Includes CD

A gorgeous and very useful book. It presents a brief descriptions and outstanding photographs and recordings of seventy-five singing insects of eastern North America (crickets, katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas). In many cases the species can be identified by their songs. The descriptions include range maps and sonograms of the calls.

Capinera, J.L., Scott, R.D., Walker, T.J. (2004) Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets of the United States, Comstock Publishing Associates, 249 pp.

This is a very useful field guide that describes the most common grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets in the US. The descriptions of many species include calls and sonograms. The pictorial keys, range maps and color plates make identification approachable. The book also contains useful information on capturing, culturing and preserving these insects. Cicadas are not members of this group (the orthopterans) and are not included.

Gerhardt, H.C. and Huber, F. (2002) Acoustic Communication in Insects and Anurans, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 531 pp.

Written for graduate students and scientists, this book concerns mainly grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, cicadas, frogs and toads. It covers sound production, reception, neural processing of sounds, localization, chorusing and various aspects of evolution.

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Nature recording techniques

Krause, B. (2002) Wild Soundscapes -- Discovering the voice of the natural world, Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 168 p. Includes a CD.

Written for the neophyte nature recordist, this book is a helpful non-technical introduction to natural sounds and how to record them. Includes descriptions of equipment and techniques. Bernie Kraus is an excellent, imaginative, and very experienced nature recordist who has worked all over the world.