Bird Sounds
Michael Ellis

Late this summer the Buick Open in Pontiac, Michigan, really caught my attention. Wood Thrush. Hermit Thrush. Northern Mockingbird. Even White-throated Sparrows in full song. These were great birds for a southern Michigan golf course. The problem arose when just a week later I heard the same birds at the PGA Championship tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. My response was repeated in living rooms all across the country: “No way!” There isn’t a White-throated Sparrow within 800 miles of Louisville in August! My faith in the fidelity of live TV was shattered by two realizations: (1) the network was playing bird recordings, not picking up live bird sounds, and (2) the producers had no idea, and apparently didn’t care, that they were supplying erroneous biological information about the place they were televising, yet this was a live broadcast.

CBS was showered with complaints. The story about bogus bird sounds was carried by newspapers and broadcasts coast to coast. The expressions of newscasters bemusedly reporting the story suggested that they had missed its most important feature. CBS was not a bit amused, however. As a senior spokesperson explained when I called, they were caught completely by surprise that so many viewers actually listen for, and think about, the sounds of nature behind the golf swings. CBS vowed to abandon the use of dubbed sound and will now use only the sounds they can get from live microphones.

The media is just beginning to recognize that 50¬60 million Americans now describe themselves as bird watchers. This is the fastest growing outdoor recreation in every social, racial, and economic sector of North America. Birds are no longer idle decorations and background noise. Instead, they are a way of life for a large and growing segment of society. This fact increasingly sophisticated appreciation for the wild heritage around us itself represents a piece of happy and hopeful news about American life. I find this news every bit as uplifting as the superstardom of Tiger Woods.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 5, 2010