Bird Call Album Flies Over Taylor Swift on Australian Pop Charts

two large brown-feathered owls
The barking owl is one of the 53 endangered bird species featured on the album. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In a surprising twist, an album of bird songs winged its way ahead of Grammy-winning artists on the Top 50 chart in Australia.

Per Patrick Jarenwattananon of NPR, sales of Songs of Disappearance—a 24-minute-long work composed entirely of squawks and squeaks made by endangered bird species—briefly nested at number three last month, ahead of pop star Taylor Swift and even soaring over holiday favorites by Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey.

“We did it! Thanks to your incredible support we reached #3 in the ARIA charts, ahead of Taylor Swift, ABBA,” and other artists, the album website states.

Songs of Disappearance includes the chatter and calls of 53 of Australia’s most endangered birds. It features “a chorus of iconic cockatoos, the buzzing of bowerbirds, a bizarre symphony of seabirds, and the haunting call of one of the last remaining night parrots,” according to the website.

The unusual concept album was produced by Anthony Albrecht, a doctoral candidate at Charles Darwin University, and David Stewart, who has been recording wildlife sounds for the past 50 years, in an effort to focus the public’s attention on the plight of these bird species. They worked with Bowerbird Collective, which Albrecht cofounded to tell conservation stories through multimedia, and BirdLife Australia, the country’s largest bird conservation organization, reports Miriam Berger of the Washington Post.

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Albrecht proposed the album to his university advisor, Stephen Garnett, a conservation professor who took to the idea like a duck to water.

“I knew it was an ambitious thing to suggest and—I don’t know—Stephen’s a little bit crazy like me, and he said, let’s do this,” Albrecht tells NPR.

Per the Guardian’s Andrew Stafford, Albrecht collaborated with violinist Simone Slattery, the Bowerbird Collective cofounder, to create a musical collage of the 53 species for the opening track of the album. The rest of the 20- to 30-second tracks are Stewart’s bird recordings from his work.

Albrecht then approached Stephen Green, head of SGC Group, a large music firm in Brisbane, reports Lars Brandle for The Industry Osbserver (ITO). Green says Albrecht wanted him to help get publicity.

“It all came together rather quickly with about three weeks from start to release date,” Green tells ITO. “We set up the narrative that it was Adele and Michael Bublé vs the most important songbirds of all, and then went out to bird enthusiasts through a range of channels during the pre-order campaign.”

Green says that even his team didn’t expect the album to chart high, but the media coverage helped create buzz.

“It was simply a case of passionate people pushing a crafted message to other passionate people,” says Green, “Which is essentially all any great marketing is right?

Each Songs of Disappearance album includes a copy of The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020, a landmark report written by Garnett and released in December. The book details how 216 species are threatened in Australia, up from 195 the decade prior. Proceeds from album sales go directly to BirdLife Australia.

three different kinds of birds
Other endangered species featured on Songs of Disappearance include the Australian bittern, gang-gang cockatoo and regent honeyeater. Songs of Disappearance

“The results tell us clearly that without changes, many species will continue to decline or to be lost altogether,” says Garnett in a statement. “However, within our report we also have some clear instructions on how to avoid these outcomes. The 2020 report also illustrates how conservation action can turn things around when well-resourced and implemented.”

The album also features some unusual-sounding bird calls, says Sean Dooley, the national public affairs manager at BirdLife Australia.

“Things like the golden bowerbird—it sounds like a death ray from some cheesy ’70s sci-fi series,” he tells NPR. “And then you get to the Christmas Island frigatebird, which the male, it has a flap of skin under its chin that it inflates like a giant red balloon. And so when it’s doing these courtship sounds, it looks incredible as well as sounds bizarre.”

He also points out the unique call of the Christmas Island imperial pigeon. “[People] swear that it’s a human making silly noises,” Dooley adds. “They’re quite magnificently ridiculous.”

According to environmentalists, many of those species are in danger. One in six of Australian birds are threatened due to bush fires, droughts, heatwaves, habitat loss and other factors, reports Medscape.

Per Paul Cashmere of Noise 11, the album generated more than $100,000 in sales as it moved up the charts in December to number three, settling in behind Adele and Ed Sheeran.

“Australian Bird Calls sold 2,621 this week to earn its number 3 ARIA position after debuting a week ago at number 5 with 2,217 sales,” the news report states.

Fans have been helping to fuel the album’s success by posting positive comments on social media.

“If you need to get lost in interesting bird sounds for about 25 minutes, check out Songs of Disappearance on Spotify,” writes one listener, according to News 18. “Let me know what you think of the barking owl.”

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