Birds and Language Conference – School of Literature, Art and Media Birds and Language Conference – School of Literature, Art and Media

Birds and Language Conference

Presented by the School of Literature, Art and Media, the University of Sydney, and supported by the Sydney Environment Institute 

The sounds birds make form structured series, comprised of complex syntaxes, nuanced in tone, precise, sometimes excessive, often regarded as being of compelling aesthetic value. We do not hesitate to refer to many of these sounds as songs, or, more prosaically, calls. We move, easily, too, towards thinking about these sounds as a species of language.

More, we readily speak of the visual rhetorics of birds: ideas of performativity, display, mimesis and deception. We sometimes dare to think of birds as artists—not only singers, but bricoleurs, assembling extravagant, colour-coded nests, as in the case of the bowerbird. More, recently, we have become more comfortable with thinking of some birds as capable of higher-order reason, as experiments with crows demonstrate capacities to think through and to solve complex physical problems.This conference poses a simple question:

What is it to talk of birds and language?

How might such a question provide the impetus and grounds for an interdisciplinary encounter between the natural sciences, the humanities, and the creative arts?


Please contact Madeleine Kelly ( or Ian Maxwell ( with any queries.



Aug 19 - 20 2021

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RD Watt Building (A04)
University of Sydney, Science Road, Camperdown, NSW 2006
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