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Where Song Began  : Australia's Birds and How They Changed the World - Tim Low

Where Song Began

Australia's Birds and How They Changed the World

By: Tim Low

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  • Hardcover View Product Published: 27th September 2016

Tim Low, award-winning author of Feral Future, in an eye-opening book on the unique nature of Australian birds and their role in ecology and global evolution.

Renowned for its unusual mammals, Australia is a land of birds that are just as unusual, just as striking, a result of the continent's tens of millions of years of isolation. Compared with birds elsewhere, ours are more likely to be intelligent, aggressive and loud, to live in complex societies, and are long-lived. They're also ecologically more powerful, exerting more influences on forests than other birds.

But unlike the mammals, the birds did not keep to Australia; they spread around the globe. Australia provided the world with its songbirds and parrots, the most intelligent of all bird groups. It was thought in Darwin's time that species generated in the Southern Hemisphere could not succeed in the Northern, an idea that was proven wrong in respect of birds in the 1980s but not properly accepted by the world's scientists until 2004 – because, says Tim Low, most ornithologists live in the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, few Australians are aware of the ramifications, something which prompted the writing of this book.

Tim Low has a rare gift for illuminating complex ideas in highly readable prose, and making of the whole a dynamic story. Here he brilliantly explains how our birds came to be so extraordinary, including the large role played by the foods they consume (birds, too, are what they eat), and by our climate, soil, fire, and Australia's legacy as a part of Gondwana. The story of its birds, it turns out, is inseparable from the story of Australia itself, and one that continues to unfold, so much having changed in the last decade about what we know of our ancient past. Where Song Began also shines a light on New Guinea as a biological region of Australia, as much a part of the continent as Tasmania. This is a work that goes far beyond the birds themselves to explore the relationships between Australia's birds and its people, and the ways in which scientific prejudice have hindered our understanding.

About the Author

Tim Low is highly regarded as a biologist and writer. He is the prize-winning author of Feral Future, The New Nature, and Wild Food Plants of Australia. He lives in Brisbane, Australia.


Interesting ideas, could have been better argued


This is an interesting work, with some fascinating ideas about song and its role in the evolution of birds. A lot of the time, however, the arguments needed clearer articulation to achieve their impact.

Mount Barker South Australia




Subject of Birds is usually pretty boring but Tim Low's pros make it a very worthwhile read.





Review written for my 96 yo mother who loves history and science - She states she had no idea about the origins of the many unique species of bird in Australia. She feels it is easy for a non-scientist to understand.





Informative, well researched and fully referenced. A truly fascinating account of Australia's bird life and the continent's contribution to this group of animals. It is a book very much about ecology and not at all dull. It really highlights the inter-disconnectedness of the land, plants and animals.



This book is a 'must have' for bird and nature lovers


This book is the best I've read about the history and life of song birds/

St Ives, NSW Australia


Not just for bird lovers


The breadth of this work is matched by the knowledge of its author and his expertise. For lovers of natural history and the relationship birds have with our unique environment



A great book


Used for anthropology research and for a better understanding our local bird environment

brisbane qld


Outstanding Read


Written with great authority Excellent index Can be put down and picked up anywhere Very readable as a reference book



A Word For Our Birds.


Prompt service but I dislike the oversized (for many books) stiff, awkward to hold and open packaging. I enjoy the ease of shopping.



Storyteller's guide to Aussie birds


It is the sort of book to be read slowly and absorbed. You can then share the bits of information that your have gleaned in a format that is easily remembered. Many of the insights are astounding and based on recent research especially DNA analysis.

Country N.S.W.



4.6 12


"A brilliantly readable book that not only gives Australian birds recognition long overdue, but allows for a fresh understanding of the way the world (and particularly our island continent) functions." - Sean Dooley, Sydney Morning Herald

"Crammed with intriguing facts and ideas... A serious feat of synthesis that few bird observers or natural historians, let alone few authors, would have the knowledge, experience, time or access to academic resources to pull together." - Bob Beale, Sunday Age

"Where Song Began has been credited with turning the map upside down, dashing upon the rocks of our shores the orthodoxy that the world’s cleverest birds must have had their genesis in the northern hemisphere." - Wild magazine

"This book is remarkable on many levels... Low proves to be a master at translating new scientific breakthroughs into a compelling and eminently enjoyable read that will bring a new perspective on Australian birds to readers irrespective of their ornithological background." - Naomi Langmore, Emu

"Where Song Began will be regarded as Tim Low's masterpiece. It is bewilderingly grand in ambition, rich in scientific detail and personal observations, and overflowing with ideas and, indeed, revelations." - Darryl Jones, Wildlife Australia

"Biologist Tim Low is as much a natural with words as he is a scholar of the natural world. He is caught up in the circle of gifted scientists, ecologists and field workers engaged in reshaping our picture of the Australian environment and the creatures it enfolds. Birds are a particular focus of his work, and thought - and it turns out that birds may well hold the most telling clues to the record of the Australian biosphere." - Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian

"One of the best works of natural history to appear all year." - Open Letters Monthly

"Entertaining and engrossing... nearly every page offers a compelling, often shocking, story." - Bird Watcher’s Digest

"Low delves into the weird and wonderful world of Aussie birds with the ease that comes with decades spent in the field... You’ll never look at a songbird the same way again." - Cool Green Science

"Low is to be congratulated for producing this very idea-rich ecological tapestry. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found it very thought provoking. The book should be of interest to anyone interested in Australian ecology and birds." - William E. Davis, Jr., Wilson Journal of Ornithology

“Highly enjoyable... Where Song Began... will enrich the understanding of anyone interested in birds.” - New York Review of Books

"Both informative and provocative, Where Song Began will be enjoyed by all who are interested in birds. It is well written, engaging, and scholarly. A great read." - John M. Marzluff, author of Welcome to Subirdia

"Low’s book weaves research with personal anecdote to unveil the uniqueness and richness of Australia's birds. A fascinating read that will alter how you think about birds and their world." - Craig W. Benkman, University of Wyoming

"Low takes us on a sweeping exploration of the southern hemisphere to reveal where song birds evolved, how they started to sing, and why we should care." - Michael Webster, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

"It’s a great story Tim Low has pieced together, and he tells it beautifully. This is natural history at its best. Excellent stuff." - Colin Tudge, author of The Secret Life of Birds and founder of the College for Real Farming and Food Culture

"Tim Low masterfully tells a story not told before. He provides an elegant synthesis of the scientific literature and a panoramic view of how Australia's songbirds originated; the ecological and behavioral forces leading to their uniqueness; and ultimately their far-reaching impacts across the globe." - Scott Edwards, Harvard University

"A brilliantly readable book that not only gives Australian birds recognition long overdue, but allows for a fresh understanding of the way the world (and particularly our island continent) functions." - Sean Dooley, Sydney Morning Herald

1. Food Worth Defending
2. Forests that Exude Energy
3. The First Song
4. New Guinea: Australia's Northern Province
5. Land of Parrots
6. The Last of teh Forest Giants
7. Australia as a Centre of Origin
8. The Forest Makers
9. Of Grass and Fire
10. Life in a Liquid Landscape
11. A Continent Compared
12. People and Birds
Picture Section

ISBN: 9780670077960
ISBN-10: 0670077968
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Published: 25th June 2014
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.9  x 3.4
Weight (kg): 0.57