These Lucky Birds Are Balling Out at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

As part of Randall Poster’s ambitious “The Birdsong Project,” the film music aficionado asked dozens of big-name designers to create one-of-a-kind birdhouses at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. They’re joined by original tracks by musicians that pay tribute to birdsong and will be released on a sprawling 20-album set this year.

“Fly South” by Studio Barnes. Photography by Liz Ligon, courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Despite being some of nature’s most vital creatures, bird populations are dwindling. Human interactions alone kill more than 500 million birds alone in the U.S. each year; high-speed collisions with glassy buildings account for up to double that amount. These revelations horrified Randall Poster, the lauded television and film music supervisor and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator, who found solace in the serenity of birdsong while quarantining in the Bronx. Together with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he enlisted a star-studded roster of architects and designers to create imaginative birdhouses as a paean to the park’s thriving avian populations—and a statement on the fragility of the natural world. The show, called “For the Birds,” opened this weekend until Oct. 23.

“Like a lot of people working from home during the Plague of 2020, I found some solace in the quiet that descended on New York City,” Poster says. “As someone moved by and working on music all my life, I had my ears opened to the music of the birds and was moved by the beauty and variety of their song. I was not alone. I also learned that bird life was at great threat as habitats are increasingly threatened. Inspired by both joy and revelation, the Birdsong Project began.”

(FROM LEFT) “100 Martin Inn” by Roman and Williams. “Bug as food as house” by Misha Kahn. Photography by Liz Ligon, courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Among the artists and designers participating are Roman and Williams, Tom Sachs, Misha Kahn, Tatiana Bilbao, and Germane Barnes, many of whom have never dabbled in avian architecture. Several created birdhouses with their own favored species in mind. Suchi Reddy’s dome-shaped papier-mâché nest mimics that of a Carolina wren, while Ellen Van Dusen’s cedar wood creation resembles the lively downy woodpeckers that constantly visit her backyard bird feeder. (“Imagine a really big version of a downy woodpecker,” she says, “but make it a birdhouse.”) Nina Cooke John’s contribution, perhaps the most abstract, interprets the robin’s poetic yet underappreciated act of nest weaving. 

Each birdhouse will be accompanied by dedicated listening stations that will play compositions by musicians such as Beck, Bette Midler, Philip Glass, and Nick Cave, who recorded original tracks that pay tribute to the melodies of our feathered friends. Each one forms a small part of “The Birdsong Project,” an ambitious undertaking that saw Poster oversee a sprawling 20-album set of 242 original recordings—spanning music, film, literature, and poetry—to be released piecemeal over the next five months. Journeying through moods and styles, such as an electronic trance from Dan Deacon segueing into a Jonathan Franzen reading, it stands as the latest musical initiative that seeks to spread awareness of the manifold threats facing birds. All proceeds from music sales will go to the National Audubon Society.

“The Nest Egg” by Suchi Reddy. Photography by Liz Ligon, courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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