When Richard Smyth was 12 he could identify practically any bird in his bird book by sight. He could also put a name to a handful of them by sound alone.

Crows, rooks, woodpigeons, herring gulls, collared doves and - surprisingly - peacocks (his neighbour kept one on his smallholding) were among those he could pick out at that age.

Birdsong wasn’t part of his world, but is did not take long for him to appreciate the infinite joys of the sound and its effect upon us.

Now the writer, critic and birdwatcher has written a book ‘about what I’d been missing’, ‘about what people - poets, bird fanciers, composers, film-makers, ornithologists, you, even me - have been hearing’. He look at the many different ways in which birdsong has been interpreted over the years and what is it about it that we love.

‘A Sweet, Wild Note’ is a fascinating book. Beautifully evocative, it is a pleasure to read, as uplifting as listening to a blackbird or robin in full voice.

‘In poetry, birdsong is more often than not an event; birdsong is the thing that leaps up at us out of a landscape,’ writes Smyth, who lives in Bradford.

He examines the different way poets through the ages describe the nightingale’s song, which was perceived as so melancholy it was in ancient times ‘believed that the bird pressed its breast up against a thorn when singing, so as to get an additional throb of anguish.’

Coleridge interprets the bird’s song differently in different poems, reflecting not the bird’s song changing but the way the 18th century poet viewed the world.

‘There’s more to the poetry of birdsong than skylarks and nightingales’, writes Smyth, ‘Ted Hughes exalts the diminutive, punchy rattling wren’; the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes declares that the blackbird ‘do zing the gayest zong’; Robert Frost hears the tit-like ovenbird (‘a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird’) singing in the lull of July.

‘Every era has its own angles on birdsong, every society its own priorities and preoccupations - and every poet, of course, brings to the subject their own freight of experience, language, insight and emotion.’

Smyth has only once seen a nightingale: ‘an unlikely vagrant’, spotted one autumn day outside his halls of residence window while studying at The University of York.

The hardback examines how birdsong was captured on early recordings, in particular the work of Arthur Augustus Allen - known as ‘Doc’ - who was the first professor of ornithology in the USA. In 1929 he and his team from Cornell University recorded the house wren (dirrd), rose-breasted grosbeak (peek) and song sparrow (sweet) on synchronised movie and audio film.

Smyth himself loves the blackcap’s song so much he lists his top three hearings – beside the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Bingley, at Eccup Reservoir and near his home, in ash and alder woodland by the River Aire.

He looks at how birdsong can define a time and place: screaming swifts tell you we are in the northern summertime, geese honking overhead suggest that the year has turned and the jabber of roosting starlings might place us in a city at dusk.

Recordings of birdsong can be ‘tinkered with’: slowed down or played backwards, or lowered in pitch (the calls of baby owls and swans were manipulated to create some of the dinosaur noises in Jurassic Park)’.

Captive birds, delivering melodies from their little cages fulfilled many roles, from fashion accessories for the elites of southern Europe, to life-savers, its rapid death from dangerous gases offering a warning to miners who could then escape.

Every page of this book offers endless interesting facts about a subject that, though little thought about, is part of our daily lives.

A Sweet Wild Note by Richard Smyth is published by Elliott and Thompson, priced £14.99