I have developed a number of talks and workshops that use audio and visuals to present compelling stories about the behavior, identification, and/or evolution of birds. The length, scope, and focus of each talk can be adjusted to fit the needs of different audiences. Titles include:
- Bird Sounds Decoded (presentation). Identifying birds by sound is a crucial skill that can be difficult to learn. Author Nathan Pieplow has devised a system that lets you identify bird sounds without having to memorize them. The Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds lets you look up sounds, the way you look up words in the dictionary. The key is learning to visualize sounds. Nathan’s clear, practical instructions for visualizing sounds will make you a better listener. You will hear details in sound that you hadn’t noticed before, and you will have the vocabulary to describe those details. Nathan will help you identify birds by their sounds, but he will also help you understand birds by their sounds. For the sounds of birds are a language, carrying messages from one bird to another. To understand the language, and decode the messages, all you need is the right dictionary.
- Becoming an Expert Listener (half-day or full-day workshop; can incorporate a field trip component). Most attempts to teach bird sound identification rely primarily on memorization. This workshop takes a different approach. Just as beginning birders learn the different parts of the bird and how to distinguish colors like “buff” and “rufous,” we will study the different parts of a sound and how to distinguish tone qualities like “burry” and “polyphonic.” We will learn to read spectrograms, and acquire a common vocabulary for describing bird sounds. Then we will apply these skills to some significant bird sound identification challenges in the region. No matter your level of experience, this workshop will help you listen to sounds more analytically, describe them more accurately, and use them more effectively in identifying birds.
- The Amazing Sounds of Birds (presentation). What bird uses its voice to echolocate inside dark caves? Which bird sings a duet with itself? Which bird sings over a thousand different songs? In this presentation for general audiences, I share some of my most remarkable audio from over a decade of recording birds in the field. You will see the sounds as well as hear them, and learn the stories of the birds that made them, and what some of those birds are actually saying.
- The Mystery Owl of Mexico (presentation). In 2015, Nathan Pieplow and Andrew Spencer obtained the first-ever photographs, videos, and audio recordings of the Cinereous Owl, a little-known bird of the mountains of Mexico. This talk tells the exciting story of their hunt for the owl across three years and thousands of miles, and their surprising discoveries about its biology and taxonomy.
- Hearing Evolution (presentation). Over the past two decades, DNA studies have radically restructured the bird family tree. Suddenly, ducks and chickens are together at the front of the field guide; falcons have landed next to parrots; our tanagers are grosbeaks; our seedeater is a tanager! But some of these taxonomic “surprises” wouldn’t have been so surprising, if we had just been listening. This talk shows how the vocal repertoires of birds can reveal deep evolutionary relationships. Among other topics, prepare to learn why warblers and sparrows are much more similar than you think; why the name of the Upland Sandpiper (once called Upland Plover) is still wrong; and what the heck a Yellow-breasted Chat really is.
- Listen to Her Sing (presentation). Only male birds sing, right? Wrong! In fact, this widespread notion has a lot more to do with human cultural and geographic biases than it has to do with nature. In this talk, I explore the often-overlooked songs of female birds. You will hear the pair duets of meadowlarks and blackbirds, the musical songs of female cardinals and orioles, and the distinctive song of the female Canyon Wren, among others. In which species do females actually sing more often than males? How do you know when you’re listening to a female Blue Jay? And where did we even get this crazy idea that only male birds sing? Answers to these questions and more in this presentation!
I am continually developing new speaking topics and workshops, so if you’d like to learn about something not listed here, let me know!