422 pages, 16 plates with colour photos and colour illustrations; b/w illustrations
Renowned for its unusual mammals, Australia is a land of birds that are just as unusual, a result of the continent's tens of millions of years of isolation. Compared with birds elsewhere, ours are more likely to be intelligent, aggressive and loud, to live in complex societies, and to be large and long-lived. They're also ecologically more powerful, exerting more influences on forests than other birds. But unlike the mammals, the birds did not keep to Australia; they spread around the globe. Australia provided the world with its songbirds and parrots, the most intelligent of all bird groups. Low has a rare gift for illuminating complex ideas in highly readable prose, here he brilliantly explains how our birds came to be so extraordinary, including the large role played by the foods they consume (birds, too, are what they eat), and by our climate, soil, fire, and Australia's legacy as a part of Gondwana. The story of its birds, it turns out, is inseparable from the story of Australia itself, and one that continues to unfold, so much having changed in the last decade about what we know of our ancient past. Where Song Began also shines a light on New Guinea as a biological region of Australia, as much a part of the continent as Tasmania. This is a work that goes far beyond the birds themselves to explore the relationships between Australia's birds and its people, and the ways in which scientific prejudice have hindered our understanding.
"Both informative and provocative, Where Song Began will be enjoyed by all who are interested in birds. It is well written, engaging, and scholarly. A great read."
– John M. Marzluff, author of Welcome to Subirdia
"A brilliantly readable book that not only gives Australian birds recognition long overdue, but allows for a fresh understanding of the way the world (and particularly our island continent) functions."
– Sean Dooley, Sydney Morning Herald
"Crammed with intriguing facts and ideas [...] A serious feat of synthesis that few bird observers or natural historians, let alone few authors, would have the knowledge, experience, time or access to academic resources to pull together."
– Bob Beale, Sunday Age
"Where Song Began has been credited with turning the map upside down, dashing upon the rocks of our shores the orthodoxy that the world's cleverest birds must have had their genesis in the northern hemisphere."
– Wild magazine
"This book is remarkable on many levels [...] Low proves to be a master at translating new scientific breakthroughs into a compelling and eminently enjoyable read that will bring a new perspective on Australian birds to readers irrespective of their ornithological background."
– Naomi Langmore, Emu
"Low's book weaves research with personal anecdote to unveil the uniqueness and richness of Australia's birds. A fascinating read that will alter how you think about birds and their world."
– Craig W. Benkman, University of Wyoming
"Low takes us on a sweeping exploration of the southern hemisphere to reveal where song birds evolved, how they started to sing, and why we should care."
– Michael Webster, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
"It's a great story Tim Low has pieced together, and he tells it beautifully. This is natural history at its best. Excellent stuff."
– Colin Tudge, author of The Secret Life of Birds and founder of the College for Real Farming and Food Culture
"Tim Low masterfully tells a story not told before. He provides an elegant synthesis of the scientific literature and a panoramic view of how Australia's songbirds originated; the ecological and behavioral forces leading to their uniqueness; and ultimately their far-reaching impacts across the globe."
– Scott Edwards, Harvard University
"On visiting Australia years ago, I struggled to understand bird behaviour I observed. This is the book I needed then, an erudite but accessible insight into why Australia's birds are 'different.'"
– Robert Prys-Jones, Head of Bird Group, Natural History Museum (London)
"Tim Low's Where Song Began makes clear that most Australian birds, with some notable exceptions such as the lyrebird, are not renowned for what we consider pleasant song. However, DNA and other evidence indicate that songbirds originated in Australia. This book is a romp into bird evolution and the people who studied it, showing what is possible from the perspective of a unique environment."
– Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven, Nesting Season, and One Wild Bird at a Time
"Where Song Began will be regarded as Tim Low's masterpiece. It is bewilderingly grand in ambition, rich in scientific detail and personal observations, and overflowing with ideas and, indeed, revelations."
– Darryl Jones, Wildlife Australia
"Biologist Tim Low is as much a natural with words as he is a scholar of the natural world. He is caught up in the circle of gifted scientists, ecologists and field workers engaged in reshaping our picture of the Australian environment and the creatures it enfolds. Birds are a particular focus of his work, and thought – and it turns out that birds may well hold the most telling clues to the record of the Australian biosphere."
– Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian
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