Why rare birdsong storms the charts in Australia

GEgen parrot, helmeted cockatoo and white-bellied frigate bird neither the new albums by Abba, Taylor Swift and Weeknd nor the annual Christmas endless loops by Michael Bublé or Mariah Carey stand a chance. At least not in Australia. There the chirping of the birds has placed itself at the top of the album charts and left all of the named artists behind in just under three weeks. On the CD entitled “Songs of Disappearance” you can hear the singing of 53 species of birds that are threatened with extinction. It was released on December 3rd and is already number three on the Australian ARIA music charts, following number five last week.

The idea for the album came from cellist Anthony Albrecht, who is currently doing his doctorate at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, and his professor Stephen Garnett. Last year, the naturalist published the “Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020”, in which more than 300 researchers deal with the continent’s bird life. Their result: every sixth bird species (216 out of a total of 1299 species) is now endangered, above all from climate change and the bushfires that have recently appeared more frequently on the continent.

Voices that could fall silent forever

The rarest bird in Australia is also listed in the report: the Mukarrthippi grass hatcher, of which there are only supposed to be two or three pairs of birds left in the state of New South Wales. That is one of the reasons why it is unfortunately missing on the CD. What can be heard, however, is the cave parakeet, which has also become extremely rare, utters short, sharp screams and can croak like a frog, as well as the almost extinct wart honey eater. Its population has declined so much that young birds no longer had enough adult models and did not learn to sing or adopted it from other species. Which in turn meant that the few birds could not find each other and mate.

In almost 40 years the Australian David Stewart has laboriously collected the 53 bird calls – and thousands more – from all over the country for his project “Nature Sound”. Right at the beginning of the album a symphony of all voices can be heard, which was “composed” by the violinist Simone Slattery. She listened to the singing, which sometimes only consists of individual and not particularly melodic tones, until she had “a structure” in her head. The almost three-minute choir at the beginning is a symbol of the diversity that Australia’s bird world has to offer, says Anthony Albrecht. At the same time, it shows what is at stake and could be lost forever if something does not change dramatically soon.

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