The pop world is all a twitter after an album devoted to birdsong gate-crashed the Aria charts.
The album produced by the birding organisation, Birdlife Australia, is built on the premise that birds are among the most talented singer-songwriters on earth. And long before anyone had heard of Elvis, the Beatles and even Taylor Swift in more recent times, the birds were the first to make music.
The aim of the album, called Songs of Disappearance, is to promote awareness of Australia’s threatened bird species.
Six out of 10 species are threatened and says Sean Dooley of the birding organisation: “We’re losing these beautiful sounds in our forests.”
The album came in at number five when it was released in early December and moved to third position into the Christmas period, surpassing Mariah Carey and ABBA.
Featuring 53 tracks of pure birdsong, Songs of Disappearance is a tribute to Australia’s unique birds and is a celebration of their beautiful and widespread array of songs. It’s a star-studded line-up, featuring acclaimed artists that include Tasmania’s forty-spotted pardalote.
It’s been 60 years since American author Rachel Carson warned of the decline of the world’s songbirds in her book Silent Spring, which largely draw attention to the impact the spraying of pesticides like DDT was having on bird populations.
The book’s publication in 1962 led to the banning of potent chemicals, at least in the western world, but since that time the immediate threats to birds have expanded into land-clearance for agricultural, industrial and housing development. Drought and bushfires are also in the mix.
Along with the forty-spotted pardalote, the songs of two other critically endangered birds seen in Tasmania – the swift parrot and the far eastern curlew – are included.
And songs range from the melodious twitters of woodland birds like robins to the haunting reedbed, marshland call of the Australian bittern, an eerie, far-carrying ghostly sound that created the Aboriginal myth of the Bunyip, a supernatural beast of the darkness.
Recent research into the Australian avifauna has revealed that many of the most familiar groups of birds of the old world originated here. They developed characteristics and behaviour – like using song to declare territory and attract mates – before spreading out across the rest of the world.
To gain these novel insights, the researchers first collected DNA from many songbird species across the world so they could be studied.
By comparing DNA between songbird species it was possible to reconstruct their evolutionary past in Australia and generate a family tree for the entire songbird group across the world.
As Birdlife Australia says in its blurb to go with the album: “Let’s get these birds the recognition they deserve and show that Australians will not allow these precious avian voices to be silenced.”
Songs of Disappearance draws on four decades of bird recordings by David Stewart.