Birdsong by Don Stap
A Natural History

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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.

About Don Stap

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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 & Leisure, and The New York Times.
Published November 1, 2007 by Scribner. 272 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction

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This fieldwork gives the book its rawest energy, for songbirds sing most spiritedly at dawn (“perhaps to signal they made it through the night”), and Stap must rise long before sunrise to keep up with the bioacousticians.

Mar 22 2005 | Read Full Review of Birdsong: A Natural History

Publishers Weekly

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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 melodie...

Dec 13 2004 | Read Full Review of Birdsong: A Natural History

Project MUSE

Many birds, for example, have evolved a syrinx with dual bronchial tubes that can be used to produce sounds of completely different frequencies—a neat trick that allows the bird to simultaneously project two sounds that are not harmonically related and thus, in effect, "[sing] a duet with itself."

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