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'Bible' contains 728 birds, their songs

Truly encyclopedic, Bird Songs Bible (Chronicle Books, $125) is a masterwork. Drawing from the vast sound archives of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it gathers an entire continent of birds into a breathtaking volume. A bible of bird song, indeed.

Using digital technology, the 535-page illustrated tome (plus digital audio player) contains not just descriptions of bird songs, but the songs themselves.

Not only can you read about every bird of North America and Hawaii, you can tap a button and take in the caw or the chirp or the melodious morning song of each and every one of 728 birds. As editor Les Beletsky, a celebrated bird biologist, humbly suggests, this is "something of a breakthrough." It's an aviary bound between covers. And it's a big one, covering approximately 7.5 percent of the world's bird population.

What makes it armchair-worthy: It's the rare gardener who isn't swept into a lifelong enchantment with the winged creatures who alight on the blooms. Thus, on a chill winter's day, what could be more heavenly than to get lost, as if in springtime, in a thicket of bird song?

Each page promises a discovery, as bird by bird we absorb the majesty of the natural world. In a powerful two pages at the back of the book, credit is given, name by name, to each birder who recorded each bird song; it's an addition that gives pause to the thoughtful reader.

You can't help but be filled with awe and wonder for those who trooped through woodlands, forest, wetland and shore, netting the birds' songs for those of us who would otherwise miss the magic.

One fine line: The poetry of bird names: pink-footed shearwater, Montezuma quail, black-bellied whistling duck, akikiki. Nearly as lovely as bird song.

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