[CT Birds] Reading 8

Dennis Varza dennisvz at optonline.net
Wed Sep 7 07:49:50 EDT 2011

Reading 8
Black-billed Cuckoo

The Black-billed Cuckoo is distinctly a more musical bird, although  
his song embraces but two well-defined tones only one of which is  
commonly prominent.

The most distinct feature of this Cuckoo’s song is the rhythmic  
recurrence of the rest. This is a thing as easily recognized by the  
unmusical and the musical listener. When one hears a series of  
rhythmically interrupted monotones coming up from the meadow, there  
can be no doubt about the singer, it is the Black-bill! No other bird  
sings exactly that way. . . . .

. . . . . It is apparent, than that however irregular the number of  
notes, the principle of rhythmic pause remains irrefragable. So  
perfectly timed is this pause, that upon setting the metronome to the  
song the bird will be found singing with almost mechanical accuracy.

Mr Cheney writes: “Early one June morning . . . a bird was exercising  
his voice in a manner that set me on the alert; it was the voice of  
the Cuckoo but not the Cuckoo song. The instant I heard  
‘Cuckoo’  . . . giving the interval of a fourth, I experienced a  
thrill of satisfaction such as no similar discovery ha afforded.  
Other ears, sharper than mine, had heard all, unknown to me; and  
there was great rejoicing.— the Cuckoo was learning to sing!”

The European Cuckoo does that to perfection, [voices were set in two  
tones] and he has been celebrated most thoroughly by the musician,  
the poet and the Swiss manufacturer of clocks.

Long Years ago (1832) an Englishman, William Gardiner wrote: “The  
plough-boy bids him welcome in the early morn. Borne by fragrant  
gales, he leaves his distant home, for our sunny spots—the coppice  
and the mead.Children mark his well-known song crying (Cuc-koo) “

On of the most beautiful poems in the English language is that by  
John Logan, To the Cuckoo, written somewhere about 1775, and beginning:

“Hail beauteus stranger of the grove!
Thou messenger of spring!
Now heaven repairs thy rural seat,
And woods thy welcome sing.”

And he does not forget the natural imitativeness of the child for he  

“The school-boy wandering through the wood
To pull the primrose gay,
Starts, the new voice of spring to hear,
And Imitates thy lay.”

Nor does the greatest of all musicians, the Immortal Beethoven fail  
to recognize the perfection of simplicity in the Cuckoo’s Song, for  
near the close of “The scene by the brook” in the Pastoral Symphony  
he introduces the tow familiar notes along with the trill of the  
Nightingale and the call of the European Quail thus: (He provides  
some bars of notes)

But probably one of the best things that has ever been written with  
the Cuckoo’s song for the theme is the nursery melody by Joseph S.  
Moorat, and English musician, which appears on the opposite page.  
Theodore Marzaials says of it: “If you wan a breath of fresh air  
straight from the the heart of the hills, play over Cuckoo! Cherry- 
tree . . . it’s as good as an hour on the moor-side”

Shakespeare writes
“The finch, the sparrow, and the lark,
The plain-song  cuckoo gray.”

In our American Black-billed Cuckoo, we have not only a musician  
capable of giving up an interval of the third or fourth, like his  
English cousin, but one who appreciates the value of measured silence  
such as that which characterizes the opening bars of Beethoven’s  
Fifth Symphony. We also possess a bird of more character too, for the  
female builds her own nest and hatches her own eggs, which is more  
than can be said of her foreign relative!

You don’t get stuff like that in David Sibley’s Guide!

Dennis Varza

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