'Bird Songs Bible' Tweets, The Old-Fashioned Way The 10-pound tome comes with a built-in audio player featuring crisp recordings of hundreds of bird songs. The 500-plus-page volume, produced with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is billed as "The Complete, Illustrated Reference for North American Birds."
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'Bird Songs Bible' Tweets, The Old-Fashioned Way

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'Bird Songs Bible' Tweets, The Old-Fashioned Way

'Bird Songs Bible' Tweets, The Old-Fashioned Way

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

I've been looking at a book that's like no other book. It has characters in it with names like Bufflehead and Wilson's Phalarope. It makes mention of the song of the Hawaii Creeper. And not only have I been reading about these things, I've been listening to them too. Here's that Hawaii Creeper.

(Soundbite of bird tweeting)

SIEGEL: That's not so creepy. The massive volume is called "The Bird Songs Bible." It is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And what's novel is it tweets - not in the 21st-century social media sense; in the good old-fashioned bird call sense. It comes with an audio player that has hundreds of bird songs.

Greg Budney is the audio curator at Cornell, and he's contributed to this work.

And, Greg Budney, is this a landmark production?

Mr. GREG BUDNEY (Audio Curator, Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library, Cornell University): It is. And I think "Bible" really says it all. It covers over 728 species of North American birds, including birds of Hawaii.

SIEGEL: And seabirds as well.

Mr. BUDNEY: Indeed.

SIEGEL: Now, I have the book beside me. And I'm going to play some of your favorites now that I've been told about. Each bird, by the way, is illustrated, and there's information about its species, and then there's a number. So the Northern Bobwhite is number 76. I enter that number...

(Soundbite of bird tweeting)

SIEGEL: I get the message. He's saying call bobwhite.

Mr. BUDNEY: Exactly. And if you were another bobwhite, you'd be doing just that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: How was that recording made, by the way?

Mr. BUDNEY: Recordings such as this bobwhite recording were made with portable field recording system, either from the earlier days of reel-to-reel recorder slung over your shoulder with a parabolic microphone, a dish not unlike the satellite television dishes that we all are so familiar with today, with an audio microphone mounted in it.

SIEGEL: You're like the guy in the sidelines at the football game.

Mr. BUDNEY: Exactly. Same gear.

SIEGEL: And the Northern Bobwhite is a very clear, perfect recording of that call.

Mr. BUDNEY: And a nice sound that's well adapted for travelling through the habitat in which bobwhite lives. Clear whistles propagate really, really well in the shrub habitat that bobwhites are found in.

SIEGEL: Now, I'm going to go to number 293. This is the Atlantic Puffin.

(Soundbite of bird tweeting)

SIEGEL: He sounds like he's had a bad day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUDNEY: Well, to my ear, I envision a miniature chainsaw. The Atlantic Puffin certainly did have some bad days on the Atlantic Coast. It was virtually extirpated from the coast of Maine but brought back through the efforts of Audubon biologist Steve Kress. You can now go to some of the islands off the coast of Maine and hear the sound for yourself.

SIEGEL: And that's some sound. Really, it sounds like a very world-weary bird.

Mr. BUDNEY: Indeed.

SIEGEL: Now, here's another one that I know you like. This is number 482, the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

(Soundbite of bird tweeting)

Mr. BUDNEY: It's not a beautiful sound. But it's one of those vocalizations when you're out on a cold winter day, snow-covered conifer trees, and you hear a Red-breasted Nuthatch. You know that life survives. It persists through the dead of winter. And Red-breasted Nuthatches is one of those lively little species of winter. Right now, they're exploding out of the Adirondacks and moving southward. Apparently, the cone crop is not sufficient in the Adirondacks right now to sustain these fellows so they're being observed in the Southern U.S.

SIEGEL: Now this book, the bible of bird songs, actually comes with a warning: Limit playing of the bird calls when you are in birded areas. Why?

Mr. BUDNEY: When a bird hears the sound of the same species from what it believes is another individual intruding upon his territory, it then feels the need to defend its territory against the intruder.

SIEGEL: Well, Greg, before you go, is there another favorite you'd like me to play for you, and you can tell me the number and I'll dial it in?

Mr. BUDNEY: How about Western Meadowlark? Number 668.

(Soundbite of bird tweeting)

SIEGEL: Birds blowing reveille, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUDNEY: Well, it's a beautiful sound to contemplate here on a cold winter day.

SIEGEL: And Greg Budney, audio curator of the Cornell Ornithology Lab, thanks so much for talking with us about this remarkable book, the "Bird Songs Bible."

Mr. BUDNEY: My pleasure.

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