Wednesday 7 February 2024

Birdsong in a Time of Silence by Steven Lovatt


This book was written in response to the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. when restrictions meant that our streets were much quieter and people became more aware of nature, particularly the sound of birdsong. In this book, the author uses his own lockdown observations of birds in his local area as a way into considering the function of birdsong in helping birds to defend a territory and find a mate and also the value that we gain from birdsong - as well as there being a basic enjoyment of birdsong, clinical studies have shown listening to birdsong has positive impact on people's mental health and wellbeing.

There is also an interesting discussion on whether birdsong can be, strictly, considered as music, centring on the observations that 'some species can improvise as well as any jazz musician.' and that some birds sing just as beautifully even after the breeding season is over, demonstrating that the song is more than purely functional.

 Bird vocalisations are divided into calls - short, purposeful vocalisations with specific intent such as contact calls and alarm calls - and song - the more extended, expressive vocalisation used to mark territory and attract a mate. Some birds never seem to sing, the corvids (crows) for example. But the author makes an excellent argument for jackdaw vocalisations to be considered song due to the wide range of sounds they use to converse in.

While lockdown opened a lot of people's ears to birdsong, the numbers of many of the UK's birds have been declining significantly for many years. "Many of the species that would have defined the start of summer even a generation ago are either absent altogether or so depleted for it to be a case of 'out of sound, out of mind'. And these losses are not just an ecological tragedy but also affect humans and our sense of our place in the world. The author notes that "on some level I'm already steeling myself for a time when I may no longer hear [swifts] at all" a sentiment I share, as I'm aware that year on year, fewer swifts are to be seen flying around our Edinburgh neighbourhood.

The text is illustrated with beautiful line drawings by Katie Marland. 

This is a beautiful book for anyone who loves listening to the birds and wants to know more about their musical abilities.

Birdsong in a Time of Silence by Steven Lovatt, illustrated by Katie Marland, published (2021) by Penguin.




Sal said...

I’ve earmarked the book; it looks to be well worth a read.
We love the birds and we’ve always done everything that we can to help them, especially throughout the colder months. However, although I can identify most species, I have to admit that I’m somewhat lacking in knowledge when it comes to birdsong!
There’s nothing like a dawn chorus to start one’s day…that’s if you don’t mind being woken at silly o clock! 😁

Bathroom Renovation said...

As a reader, I found Steven Lovatt's "Birdsong in a Time of Silence" to be a poignant reflection on the significance of birdsong during the COVID-19 lockdown. Lovatt's personal observations, combined with the scientific insights, truly highlighted the therapeutic value of birdsong, something I resonated with deeply during my own moments of solitude. The book's discussion on whether birdsong can be considered music was particularly thought-provoking, making me reconsider my own perceptions of nature's melodies.