Music of the Birds. And more!

Music of the Birds by Lang Elliott is a classic book and CD combo well over 10 years old, that provided bird lovers with a chance to learn to identify and appreciate the songs of numerous species. Over the last decade or so many other CD-based bird song offerings have become available. More recently, Lang teamed up with Marie Read to produce an iBook (iAuthored) version of Music of the Birds which takes advantage of the iAuthored iBook format in many ways. This is my first review of an iAuthored book, and obviously the first one on this blog, so I want to use the opportunity to discuss what a iAuthored iBook does.

Some iAiB's start out with a video of the author talking or something. Music of the Birds Volume 1 does this. Now, I have to say in all respect that my many years of involvement with the study of natural history intersecting with my many years of teaching related topics at universities has left me mostly uninterested in even good nature writing and the video-documentary version of that as well. What this means is that I think all nature videos should have the dialog rewritten by Hunter S. Thompson (well, in his style) and the voice over done by Rachel Quaintance. Having said that, the video that starts out Music of the Birds Volume 1 is one of the most amazing sequences of video of birds I've ever seen, in terms of production value and quality. The video does not make me a fan of starting iAiB's with a video, but the video is good.

Music of the Birds: Front Cover

Where I show you pictures of the "inside" of this book bear in mind that these are compressed, ensmallened jpegs of the original. The detail and sharpness of the imagery, including stills and videos, in this book are unsurpassed and utterly mind blowing. I've only seen it on a iPad 2. I have no idea what the famous Apple iPad 3 screen would make this look like. You'd probably think there was a real bird there.

When you go "in" to the book the format looks like this:

Inside the book

Notice the strip along the bottom. This is a kind of menu you can move with your finger to open pages in this book. In some books, these icons represent chapters. You can also move between pages by single tapping to one side or the other of the page. When you are looking at a page, that menu along the bottom normally goes away, and to get it back you "pinch" the page you are looking for back down to the bottom.

This chapter covers XXXX birds. For each bird, there is an opening photograph with a sound file ready to play with a long sampling of the bird's song. Following this is a page that has another photograph, a range map, an embedded "slide show" which blows up to a larger slide show when you click on it, or that can be "thumbed" through in situ, and another sound file. The sound file has more of the bird's song plus discussion by the book's authors. Here's the page I was just talking about for the Eastern Meadowlark:

Eastern Meadowlark Chapter: Main page

And here is the slide show enlarged. Did I mention that the photographs are spectacular?

Following this for each bird is a full-page "video portrait" which is probably the best single part of this book, again, owing to the amazingly crisp and clear photography.

Video portrait of the Eastern Meadowlark (no, you can't click on this, this is just a portrait of the portrait!)

I would love to see more, different portraits perhaps some from a distance showing behavior.

Following this, and and closing out the section for each bird, is a page of multiple sounds characteristic of the species with text providing context and further information.

Sound sheet for the Eastern Meadowlark.

Until you are used to it, navigation can be a little tricky. For instance, you can't pinch down from a video (or at least, I couldn't). You've got to "done" it first (or randomly poke at the screen then pinch it). However, I'm pretty sure that all of the gestures adopted in this iBook are standard for iBooks made with iAuthor, so this is just a matter of practice.

The key premise of this iBook is that one can get a lot out of the intense study of a smaller number of species than by filling out some big giant life list. I'm sure that is true. Apropos this, the current volume covers only a small number of birds, including the Eastern Meadowlark (obviously), and twenty other commonish North American birds such as the Chipping Sparrow, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Robin, the Blue Jay, and the Scarlet Tananger.

Music of the Birds Volume 1 is new, and the price is likely to vary. I am not sure what it is set at now, since the "store" shows the prices as "install" because I have a review copy on my iPad. Check it out, it is well worth a look. I can't wait until Volume II comes out!

While we are on the subject of bird books, I wanted to make a quick comment about three other iPad items, iBird Explorer Plus, Audubon Birds, and Chirp! Bird Songs USA +.

In comparing the Audubon bird guide with iBird, there is no contest. All of the iBird books are better made, better done, more usable. The Audubon series of books (on all sorts of critters and plants and such) are a great concept but I don't think they are well executed. The internal search engines are poor, the navigation clumsy. I find myself finding stuff, and more useful stuff, on iBird Explorer Plus much more easily than on the Amazon guide. Meanwhile if you want to learn the bird songs, get Chirp! It makes a quiz and you quiz yourself with it. It's a lot of fun. I think mine was $1.99. It's worth more. Maybe even $2.99!

For more discussion on multi-media birding material, check out this post from 10,000 birds.
all images provided as review copy by the authors

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Hadn't heard of Chirp before so will look into it. Thanks. Do have Audubon's and iBird. Like you, I prefer the iBird version. I especially like the fact that they have both drawings and pictures, plus great links to further information (if you`re near wifi). Still, I managed to get Audubon for .99 cents so it was well worth it.

One 'complaint' I have about bird song learning software is that they don't cover the myriad of versions of songs. Borror and Gunn did in their warblers but even that great work lacks some rather common variations in bird song.

In the past compilers were limited to what would fit on CDs, but now we can fit a great deal more into a program. I think it is well past time for a leap forward in bird song learning programs.I've started supplementing my bird CDs (burned to mp3 and wav files) with variations taken from online recordings...I'd be willing to pay money if someone would do that work for me and produce a nice program with lots of versions of the songs.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 26 Jun 2012 #permalink

The problem is going to be space. If you put all the Audubon animal guides and most of the known bird guides other than Audubon on an iPad, it doesn't fit. But the next generation of storage at that level will allow us to walk around with a myriad of exemplars per species' song/vocalization!

Yes, space is a problem (sorry, I post and forget I post so I don't check back to see if there's feedback). I had to delete some big hog items so I could download the Audubon bird updates to reflect the 53rd supplement to the AOU checklist. So far, Audubon is the only one to update the name changes, something for which they should be commended.

I had to track down all our in-progress reports and all the sections that might have bird scientific names mentioned in them, and change the names to reflect the new changes. No point in sending up any red flags for knowledgeable reviewers...."If he's the expert, why didn't he know the names have been updated? We'd better take a closer look at their other data...." The updated Audubon app was very very handy.

By Dan J. Andrews (not verified) on 13 Dec 2012 #permalink

I really appreiated your review of the Music of Birds. You have a fine talent for leading your readers through the basics of what might otherwise be mundane "stuff". Thanks!

By Roger Trottier (not verified) on 24 Mar 2013 #permalink