cover image BIRDSONG: A Natural History

BIRDSONG: A Natural History

Don Stap, . . Scribner, $24 (261pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-3274-6

The field of avian bio-acoustics has dragged birdsong from the domain of poets into the realm of the hard sciences. English professor Stap (A Parrot Without a Name ) explores it through this engaging profile of ornithologist Don Kroodsma and his pioneering field studies of birdsong in the wild. Birdsongs are learned rather than instinctual (the brown thrasher has a repertoire of 2,ooo songs), and Stap delves into the complex processes by which birds acquire them, the individual idiosyncrasies and regional dialects that color them, and the mating behaviors and territorial antagonisms they regulate. 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 melodies, and of the bitter methodological controversies between field ornithologists and scientists who prefer controlled but perhaps misleadingly artificial experiments in the laboratory. A lucidly written combination of scientific lore and vivid reportage, the book is a thoughtful treatment of one of nature's most beguiling phenomena. Agent, John Taylor Williams . (Mar.)