Book Review: BirdNote

Book Review: BirdNote: Chirps, Quirks, and Stories of 100 Birds from the Popular Public Radio Show edited by Ellen Blackstone with illustrations by Emily Poole

Review by Jeanette Larson, Travis Audubon Master Birder

In 2004 Seattle Audubon’s team began writing “compelling stories about the intriguing ways of birds.” These short, one-two minute pieces, were recorded for local public radio. In 2006, the program began to expand and is now heard on over 200 public radio stations. In Austin, it can be heard as part of some Living on Earth segments on KUTX-90.5 FM. New and older segments can also be heard on-line here.

The book, BirdNote, is a compilation of 100 of the best stories from the radio show. Usually covering a single page, with an illustration of the bird being discussed on the facing page, each brief piece features the habits, quirks, songs, biology, and idiosyncrasies of a bird. Articles include: Is anting an avian spa treatment? How does a finch’s beak help it eat sunflower seeds? Why do some gulls have a red dot on their bills? Did you know that Red-winged blackbirds have a harem? The bright red “epaulets” warn other males to stay away from his many female companions. Roadrunners sound like a lonely puppy. And Barn swallows are natural pest control. The vignettes are informative, charming, poignant, and often humorous.

The short pieces make it easy to dip in and sample entries, but the index also allows readers to look up specific birds. This compilation, published in 2018, focuses a lot on birds of the Pacific Northwest, understandable given the origins of the program. More recent programs feature birds from all over North America, and even some worldwide birds. A feature from the program that is not able to be replicated in the book are the sounds and songs included in most episodes. These come from BirdNote’s partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology. On the other hand, the illustrations are, of course, not seen with aural pieces. Each segment is vetted by experts and the readers are professional narrators, storytellers, and DJs. Readers who are also listeners may hear these voices while reading an episode.

Get a copy for yourself and as a gift for a birding friend.