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NJIT professor explains bird songs with science, poetry, music

A better understanding of why birds sing has led David Rothenberg, PhD, a professor in the department of humanities at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), on a journey into the seemingly disparate worlds of science, poetry and music. The result is the publication this month of Why Birds Sing (Basic Books).

"My book is the first introduction to the world of bird song to combine science, music and poetry to make sense of why birds sing," Rothenberg said.

The book's idea originated with Rothenberg's experiences in 2000 when playing his clarinet along with birds in the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. To his surprise, one bird, a white-crested laughing thrush, responded to his music much more than he had expected. Soon, Rothenberg wanted to know why birds behaved the way they did. He embarked on a journey which led him from ancient writings to the cutting edge of neuroscience,

Why Birds Sing makes good use of Rothenberg's experience teaching courses in science, technology, and society at NJIT. These courses gave him a unique window on which to view his subject. For example, in the 19th century, poets were more accurate than scientists in noting down the rhythms of bird songs. Later, though, in the 20th century, sound recording and computers revolutionized the ability of researchers to print out bird songs and scrutinize the sounds on paper. For Rothenberg, thanks to his unusual teaching and research background, both these facts made sense and indeed were incorporated into the book.

More unusual tidbits abound. The text highlights a 200-page book about a three-note bird song, written in the 1940s. He details a bird that picks up African bird songs on its migratory route . Later this crooner sings the African tunes in the marshes of Europe when it returns in summer.

Examining the field of neuroscience, Rothenberg explains how researchers have discove
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Contact: Sheryl Weinstein
sheryl.m.weinstein@njit.edu
973-596-3436
New Jersey Institute of Technology
22-Apr-2005


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