Wildlife Sound Archivist Remembered

Twenty years ago Saturday, Ted Parker, one of the world's greatest field biologists and sound archivists, died in a plane crash. He made nearly 11,000 wildlife recordings, and could identify some 4,000 different bird species by just the sound of their vocalizations. In this audio montage from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, director John Fitzpatrick offers a remembrance.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Twenty years ago today, Ted Parker, one of the world's great ornithologists and sound recordists died in a plane crash in Equator. He was only 40. Parker contributed nearly 11,000 wildlife recordings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay library.

He could identify some 4,000 different bird species by sound alone. In this audio montage, the lab's director, John Fitzpatrick offers a remembrance.

JOHN FITZPATRICK: I've rarely met anybody as passionate about his love of nature and of birds than Ted Parker.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS AND MAN SPEAKING)

TED PARKER: A great flock up here. I don't know if you can see all these things moving.

FITZPATRICK: He became extraordinary at being able to hear and pick out birds far away, much more acutely than most of us mere mortals can do.

PARKER: Must do about 18 species from this tree here above us right now.

FITZPATRICK: He began learning things about South American birds that nobody knew, and he could compare different species.

PARKER: Within the flock there's a small group of species, maybe half a dozen or so that spend all their lives together and move through an area maybe five or six acres in the forest. Another 20 or more species will follow them. There's obviously safety in numbers. The more eyes you have looking for predators, the greater your chances of surviving.

FITZPATRICK: He did not have an advanced degree. He didn't have time to go to school, basically is how he put it. He was out exploring, he was out learning, he was talking with people, actually getting meetings with government officials and even heads of state about the importance of considering the natural areas on the eastern slopes of the Andes.

Most importantly, he got into bird sound and he began recording birdcalls.

PARKER: Most of the experience for me has always been auditory. It's more than 50 percent of everything that's happening in a forest, and so I like to try to excite other people and turn other people on to all the sounds.

FITZPATRICK: The body of work that Ted accumulated, the collections of bird songs and calls from across the American tropics is a tremendous addition to the entire field of ornithology. And mourning his loss and celebrating his life made each one of us say to each other we're going to have to work twice as hard now to be able to accomplish what we think we can do in conservation because Ted's not there.

WERTHEIMER: John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology remembering Ted Parker. You can find a link to download Parker's voices of the Peruvian Rainforest on our Facebook page, NPR Weekend. That audio montage was produced by Bill McQuay. This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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