Kroodsma’s popular book The Singing Life of Birds (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) won several honors. Although he was already acknowledged as a top expert on bird vocalizations, it cemented his reputation in this field. This fine sequel will not disappoint anyone. Both books are suffused not just with Kroodsma’s expertise and pleasant, expository writing but also with his refreshing enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and often poetic approach.
Birdsong by the Seasons is geared to two accompanying CDs. These combine for more than 126 minutes of good listening, and boast 126 tracks. Pages 277–309 annotate every track as they progress through the calendar year if you wish to follow along. Alternatively, you can just sit back and enjoy the sounds.
Kroodsma surveys not only song but also callnotes, the drumming of woodpeckers and grouse, nocturnal migration calls, and the calls of young. Especially interesting are recordings of young birds not yet adept at the songs they will sing as adults, songs of female birds, the identifications of species a white-eyed vireo is imitating, and birds singing out of season. A nice touch, absent on many other recordings, is identification of birds heard in the background.
In the Northeast we are heartened by the occasional singing of tufted titmice, house finches, song sparrows, and northern cardinals in January, as well as the drumming of woodpeckers and the calling of mourning doves—the first signs that winter will pass. Kroodsma takes this a big step further. He believes much early singing is initiated right at the winter solstice, his romantic view being this is a sort of de facto first day of spring. He has conducted field work before, during, and after the solstice to back this up.
Birdsong by the Seasons covers lots of geographical ground: Everglades ibises in January, Platte River sandhill cranes in March, Nicaragua in April, Virginia mimic species in May, Colorado grasslands on a late spring morning. But many of the sounds come from Kroodsma’s Massachusetts stomping grounds.
There is little recording done in the West, but Kroodsma’s commentary has a universality that overcomes this. Besides, many of his species occur out West, too. There is a helpful appendix titled “How to Record a Singing Bird.”
A word or two about the potential harm of playback and audiolures in this age of the iPod would have been welcome. Its absence, however, does not take away from this highly enjoyable publication. The book is a pleasure to recommend. —Henry T. Armistead