“A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”– Maya Angelou.
I’ve always loved the bird songs that herald the first signs of Spring in my garden. I even return the calls to some of my favorite songbirds during the daylight hours, especially the Mockingbirds, those versatile song stylists that actually pause, listen and attempt to replicate my lame attempts at mimicry. And as the mating and nesting season progresses, the seasonal symphony takes on a special urgency as ardent Lotharios sing their hearts out night after night hoping to make a “love” match.
I was excited to discover that Sir David Attenborough shares my fascination with animal songs and has produced, via the BBC, a film on the subject. Attenborough’s Wonder of Song highlights seven distinctive animal songs that Attenborough singles out for their relevance to his lifelong explorations as a naturalist and to the mating, territorial dominance and survival of their singers.
This fascinating, new hour-long documentary closes the extraordinary 41st season of Nature on PBS tonight, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m.C. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region. It will also stream simultaneously with broadcast (see below for details).
Attenborough’s Wonder of Song, produced, directed and written by Beth Jones and Mike Birkhead and presented by David Attenborough, convincingly captures Attenborough’s characteristic zest for discovery as he revisits his first significant encounters with the seven songs that memorably impacted his life. “Without them,” stresses Attenborough, “Our lives would truly be impoverished.”
He also introduces the pioneering research of scientists who continue to tweak long held theories and debunk misconceptions about animal songs… for example, the myth that female songbirds don’t sing. After professor Naomi Langmore first recorded a female Fairy Wren singing to defend her territory, further study confirmed that females do sing in 64% of all songbird species. Since songbirds make up half of the 10,000 species of birds and have the most advanced vocal organs in the natural world, it’s refreshing to find out that the ladies have a voice too… a loud one …and they are using it!
“These are songs of seduction and weapons of war,” confirms Attenborough.
Attenborough’s favorite songbird encounters spotlight the Great Tit, Nightingale, Superb Lyrebird, Superb Fairy Wren, and the now extinct Hawaiian ‘Ō ‘ō. Attenborough touchingly recalls recording a lone male ‘Ō ‘ō in the 1980’s plaintively singing for a mate that would never come. Sadly, the species had, by then, gone extinct. “There are few songs more haunting than this,” remembers Attenborough.
Attenborough’s list of seven special songsters includes the Humpback Whale. Unlike the doomed ‘Ō ‘ō, the Humpback Whale dodged extinction at the 11th hour simply by singing. More than half a century ago, deep sea divers discovered that Humpback Whales had a voice. A recording of whale songs in 1970 inspired conservationists to call a halt to rampant whale carnage, and so began the “Save the Whales” movement.
One of Attenborough’s earliest and most noteworthy subjects was Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri. In 1960, he helped capture the first ever audio of Indri Lemurs, remarkably loud and verbose individuals that remained invisible within their habitat until he played their songs back to them. They responded vocally and were subsequently drawn out into the open by the playback.
Attenborough’s Wonder of Song is a marvelous introduction to the diversity of song in nature. The documentary premieres on the PBS Nature series tonight, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 C. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region. It will also stream simultaneously with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including http://PBS.org and the PBS Video App , available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. Check streaming availability also on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and for members: PBS Passport. Contact ShopPBS.org for DVDs.
As climate change, pollution and over-development turn lush, thriving natural habitats into uninhabitable wastelands (Sad fact: 38 million songbirds have disappeared in the UK in the last 60 years), the continuing study and documentation of animal songs is a must…and a timely, evergreen theme for a film, especially one with Sir David Attenborough at the helm. Be sure to stop and listen the next time you hear a songbird sing, and don’t forget to watch this documentary!! –Judith Trojan
I’l try to view this in a day or two via streaming.
Your post really makes it sound intriguing.
I’m Instagram friends with a cloudspotter
He also posts videos of lyre birds whose call is just captivating. He has been very successful capturing them on video in the wild. It’s almost impossible to get close to them.
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