Birder's Eye View

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review: Field Book of Wild Birds & their Music

I've been reading a lot this summer, so I've decided to periodically post reviews of some of the bird/nature books I've read so far.

Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music
F. Schuyler Mathews

I first came across this little gem in my college library last fall. I had just finished a big research project and was completely dead beat, when it randomly occurred to me to see what kinds of bird books were in the library’s collection.

I found the typical field guides, studies, reference books, and then a little black leather-bound diminutive tome tucked in the middle. It was an original 1904 copy of F. Schuyler Mathews’ Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music.

It immediately captured my attention. The grayscale watercolor paintings stood out, but not so much as the musical notation written for the song of almost every species in the field guide. While such musically annotated birdsong books are fairly common today, in research I discovered that Mathews’ guide was one of the first of its kind.

As a pianist of 11 years, there was no way I could pass up a book that combined two of my favorite pastimes – birding and music. I checked it out, and ran to the music practice rooms to try my hand at some of the “songs.”

Most of the musical notation in the book is little more than one or two lines, but the notes are surprisingly accurate considering the time period in which they were written. As this was published back before the age of fancy recording equipment, the author transcribed the songs of all 127 species in the book by ear.

This isn’t the kind of thing I could read cover to cover, but I find it useful as a reference. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at identifying birds by sound, and since getting my own (newer!) copy of this guide I’ve been able to make the fundamental connection between music and birding.

I would rate Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music a 7/10. Although very dated, it’s a unique find and one of interest to any musically-inclined birder.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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