Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Are you trapped on a crowded subway or in a traffic jam of honking, stinking cars? If so, you might be interested to know that you can transport yourself to a different world, a cool green space where you can feel the earth breathe in time to the music of birds. Your personal vehicle is BirdNote, a 2-minute radio program about birds and nature.

“We want to help people connect to the natural world and, for a couple minutes, get out of the daily grind,” said Chris Peterson, executive producer of BirdNote.

BirdNote was inspired by an older program, Earth & Sky, a 90-second radio program about science that many of us listened to in its heyday on our local NPR affiliate. The BirdNote program was the brainchild of Chris Peterson, who was director of the Seattle Audubon Society at the time. (BirdNote later spun off into its own nonprofit, which Peterson now is executive director of.)

“The idea grabbed me and never let go,” Peterson remarked.

BirdNote first aired on 21 February 2005 on KPLU radio in Seattle, Washington and the program now boasts the largest audience of any environmental radio program in Pacific Northwest, with hundreds of thousands of listeners tuning in every day on several NPR affiliates throughout the country.

During its first five years, BirdNote broadcasts expanded to seven 2-minute programs per week. BirdNote also utilizes modern technology to archive all of its broadcasts as mp3 files so the public can freely stream or download and listen to these programs anytime and anywhere, from a crowded subway car to a public library.

This popular radio program was designed to discuss the interesting and amazing abilities of birds, and to communicate what birds reveal about the complexity of the natural world.

“Birds are important messengers with stories to tell,” said Peterson. “Birds are not only a way to see the beauty of nature, but to understand the complexity of nature — and life.”

Each program incorporates birdsongs produced by the day’s featured species. These songs are provided by the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, a nonprofit, member-supported organization in Ithaca, New York that studies birds and other wildlife.

“[Birdsong] adds so much depth to the landscape,” Peterson said. “You begin to realize there is so much beyond the surface of what you see, and the natural world becomes that much more interesting.”

The program is designed to educate the public about birds and to inspire people to protect birds and their habitats. All programs feature a companion photo on the BirdNote website, many of which were taken by photographer-naturalist, Paul Bannick.

“I try to take photographs that say, ‘This is who this is,’ ” said Bannick, who also works as the development director of the environmental group Conservation Northwest. “Most of my work is in learning about the subject.”

“BirdNote is in the business of empathy. People must feel a connection to nature if we want to save a species.”

In the 2009 State of the Birds Report, 67 of the 800 species that inhabit the terrestrial, coastal and ocean habitats of the United States are federally listed as “endangered” or “threatened.” An additional 184 are species of “conservation concern.” [USFWS Report: The State of the Birds 2009 free PDF]

“So many birds are [federally listed],” Peterson explained. “Most people don’t realize it. We want people to realize and take note.”

But protecting and maintaining healthy ecosystems is becoming increasingly difficult due to challenges presented by a rapidly growing human population, and pressures from business to constantly expand and increase consumption, so BirdNote explores how the public can change their behavior to reduce damages to wild bird populations.

“Such simple acts can make a difference, such as if everyone chose to buy only shade-grown coffee. That one act could protect the forest canopy of South and Central America,” Peterson pointed out.

During its five years on the air, BirdNote presented stories on a wide variety of natural and environmental phenomena, from torpor in hummingbirds to the energetic demands of migration, as well as exploring changes occurring in the world, such as the effects of global climate change.

BirdNote main writers are Dennis Paulson, Curator Emeritus of The Slater Museum of Natural History at the University of Puget Sound, and Bob Sundstrom, a birding-by-ear expert with the Seattle Audubon Society, and includes contributions from other writers and naturalists. All shows are reviewed for scientific accuracy by a panel of advisors.

“Using the power of good storytelling, we are encouraging listeners to pay attention to a larger reality — that of nature — and to think about their personal roles as active or supportive stewards of the future,” Peterson explained.

Unfortunately, BirdNote is not heard on the public radio airwaves in most parts of the United States. If you want your local NPR affiliate to add BirdNote to its morning line-up, you are encouraged to contact the staff at BirdNote, providing your NPR affiliate’s call letters and contact information for the program director at the station. It is helpful to write a short email describing why BirdNote is important to you so the BirdNote staff can refer to it when they talk to the station manager.

You are invited to follow BirdNote on Twitter and to “friend” BirdNote on Facebook.

Sources and Backstory:

BirdNote Website.

BirdNote [Twitter]

BirdNote [Facebook]

Frank Corrado, the voice of “BirdNote” [Nicole Tsong: Seattle Times, 10 Feb 2007]

Lure Birds to your backyard like a “BirdNote” Pro [Nicole Tsong: Seattle Times, 10 Feb 2007]

On the Fly [William Dietrich: Seattle Times, 7 Aug 2006]

In The Northwest: The birds have such songs to sing and stories to tell [Joel Connelly: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4 May 2005]

BirdNote [Wikipedia]

NOTE: I do not have any financial or other interests in BirdNote, beyond the fact that I know most of the people involved in this radio program (I am a Seattle native), and I think it’s a great program that more people should listen to.

Comments

  1. #1 Kaye Swain
    March 22, 2010

    What a wonderful resource! It could easily be added to other bird watching activities for grandparents and their grandchildren to enjoy. Thanks for the info.

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