Friday, July 29, 2011

Meet: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence

How could I have not know this lady's name?  Well, I kinda do know her, at least from her work.  It would probably also be true that anyone with an interest in North American birds knows of the revelations she gave to us.  For a half century before the term 'citizen science' was even thought of she had been doing studies and sharing her results in reviews and national magazines.  It is no wonder that many of her discoveries are well known.  I wrote in "Birds of Alberta" of the Red-eyed Vireo “one patient ornithologist estimated that one vigorous vireo sings its phrases up to 21,000 times a day.”  It doesn't say much for me that it took another 12 years to find the real statement in that finding.

On May 27, 1953 Louise de Kiriline Lawrence set out to count the number of times "Male A" - a Red-eyed Vireo, would repeat his song in a single day.  She writes in detail about the experience in "Enchanted Singer of the Tree Tops."  Louise began the day at 3:00 am and the bird started singing at 4:23 am. By the end of the exhausting exercise she writes...

"Between 6:00 and 6:13 p.m. my vireo sang 44 songs. Two
minutes later, with wings closed, he dropped from the crown
of the aspen into a thick stand of young evergreens. From
there, like an echo of his day's performance, he gave six more
songs. Then he fell silent and was heard no more. Officially,
the sun set one hour and 39 minutes later.
Fourteen hours, less six minutes, my red-eyed vireo had
been awake. Of this time he spent nearly 10 hours singing a
total of 22,197 songs. This was his record."

So I was wrong, the song of the vireo was not repeated 21,000 times but 22,197.  But more important than the magnitude of the number, was the inner commitment and drive that was revealed through the study.  "This bird sang simply because self-expression in song was as much a part of his being as his red eye."  Here Louise recognized a visceral inner drive within the bird, but she could have just as well been writing about her own drive.  What else but passion could explain the exceptional effort put forth that day by both Male A and Louise de Kiriline Lawrence?

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