Sound Recordings—An Essential Tool for Conservation


British Bird Sounds on CD. The Definitive Audio Guide to Birds in Britain . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 175 tracks. $25 (two CDs). ISBN 978-0-7123-0512-9 .

Coastal Birds. An Audio Guide to Bird Sounds of the British Coastline . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 50 tracks. $15 (one CD). ISBN 978-0-7123-0588-4 .

Countryside Birds. An Audio Guide to the Bird Songs of the British Countryside . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 65 tracks. $15 (one CD). ISBN 978-0-7123-0590-7 .

Songs of Garden Birds. The Definitive Audio Guide to British Garden Birds . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 52 tracks. $15 (one CD). ISBN 978-0-7123-0519-8 .

Vanishing Wildlife. A Sound Guide to Britain's Endangered Species . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 31 tracks. $15 (one CD). ISBN 978-0-7123-0528-0 .

Bird Sounds of Madagascar. An Audio Guide to the Island's Unique Birds . Compiled by F. Hawkins and R. Ranft . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 99 tracks. $15 (one CD). ISBN 978-0-7123-0534-1 .

Sounds of the Deep. An Exploration of Life in Our Seas . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 15 tracks. $15 (one CD). ISBN 978-0-7123-0526-6 .

Rainforest Requiem. Recordings of Wildlife in the Amazon Rainforest . Compiled by R. Ranft . 2010 . British Library , London , U.K. 29 tracks. $15 (one CD). ISBN 978-0-7123-0513-6 .

Beyond the beauty in bird and other animal sounds, and beyond their use in casual bird watching, sounds as documented on CDs such as these can have enormous conservation value. Being able to identify the sounds of various species is indispensable for any accurate census of species abundance, and accurate census data are essential for making many conservation decisions, not just for the birds or other animals being censused but for entire ecosystems. Consider how the late Ted Parker used his extensive knowledge of Neotropical bird sounds in his work for Conservation International (Schulenberg & Collar 1995; Remsen 1997). From 1989 until his death during a bird survey in 1993, Parker directed his innovative Rapid Assessment Program, through which a team of experts could visit a proposed conservation site and in a relatively short time assay the conservation value of that site. Parker knew the bird sounds and could quickly document the diversity of avian species of any place in the New World, far faster and more completely than years of observational surveys. With Neotropical habitats rapidly disappearing, such assessment speed, made possible through knowledge of bird sounds, is essential.

The sounds of birds are also indispensable in taxonomy and in identifying and understanding the units of biological diversity that conservation professionals seek to conserve. Parker was renowned for being able to identify new species on the basis of sound alone. He also could distinguish hundreds of abrupt and dramatic shifts in vocal characters within described Neotropical species, shifts that almost certainly represent boundaries between different species (e.g., Isler et al. 1998). Archives such as those at the British Library and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology contain an abundance of well-documented material that is often the basis for thorough systematic studies.

The CDs published by the British Library serve a variety of purposes. British Bird Sounds on CD, Coastal Birds, Countryside Birds, and Songs of Garden Birds systematically provide examples of the most common vocalizations of birds that occur throughout Great Britain. They are foremost a guide for those who wish to be able to identify and enjoy birds by their sounds. Two of the remaining four CDs have more direct application to conservation. Vanishing Wildlife alerts listeners to wild animals that are disappearing from Britain and provides some lessons in conservation, and Bird Sounds of Madagascar is likely to aid in identification of species during a survey and preservation of the endemic and endangered birds there. Sounds of the Deep and Rainforest Requiem invite one to listen in awe and appreciation to our singing planet. In Sounds of the Deep one is taken on an underwater journey through the world's oceans to hear rare and seldom-appreciated sounds. Rainforest Requiem invites listeners to immerse themselves in the magic of an Amazonian soundscape.

For the most part, the CDs serve these purposes superbly. The CDs of sounds of British birds are a thorough, complementary set that can be used to learn the basic sounds of birds throughout Britain. The recordings are compiled from those of accomplished British sound recordists such as Richard Margoschis, John Gordon, Patrick Sellar, and Chris Watson. Vanishing Wildlife raises alarms for anyone who cares about preserving diversity in our natural world, and anyone listening to the remarkable sounds presented here cannot help but be moved. Appreciation and awe of the sounds in the Deep and the Rainforest CDs are inevitable. Those who find Bird Sounds of Madagascar of interest would also do well to consider the four-CD set by Huguet and Chappuis (2003), which includes the sounds of 327 species of Madagascar birds and a booklet in French and English.

The natural sounds of the planet are one of the most compelling facets of life on Earth, and in that sense any CD that calls attention to this wonder of our natural world is worthy of note. Such are these eight CDs. Senegal conservationist Baba Dioum spoke of how humans will conserve only what they love and understand and know, and for many listening to these CDs could lead to the knowing and love that will help foster conservation in general. The health of our planet would certainly be much improved if CDs like these were cherished parts of everyone's library.