[CT Birds] Reading 8

Steve Mayo rsdmayo at sbcglobal.net
Wed Sep 7 19:44:48 EDT 2011

I've been enjoying these quaint, Victorian descriptions provided by Dennis.  But reading them immediately reminded me of another bird behaviorist, Mark Twain.  Here's an excerpt about Cyanocitta cristata:
You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure-- but he's got feathers on him, and don't belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much human as you be. 
And I'll tell you for why. A jay's gifts, and instincts, and feelings, and interests, cover the whole ground.  A jay hasn't got any more principle than a Congressman. A jay will lie, a jay will steal, a jay will deceive, a jay will betray; and four times out of five, a jay will go back on his solemnest promise. The sacredness of an obligation is such a thing which you can't cram into no bluejay's head. Now, on top of all this, there's another thing; a jay can out-swear any gentleman in the mines. You think a cat can swear. Well, a cat can; 
but you give a bluejay a subject that calls for his reserve-powers, and where is your cat? Don't talk to ME--I know too much about this thing; in the one little particular of scolding--just good, clean, out-and-out scolding-- a bluejay can lay over anything, human or divine. 
Yes, sir, a jay is everything that a man is. A jay can cry, a jay can laugh, a jay can feel shame, a jay can reason and plan and discuss, a jay likes gossip and scandal, 
a jay has got a sense of humor, a jay knows when he is an ass just as well as you do--maybe better. If a jay ain't human, he better take in his sign, that's all. 
- from A Tramp Abroad
Steve Mayo

--- On Wed, 9/7/11, Dennis Varza <dennisvz at optonline.net> wrote:

From: Dennis Varza <dennisvz at optonline.net>
Subject: [CT Birds] Reading 8
To: "Posting Bird List" <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Date: Wednesday, September 7, 2011, 7:49 AM

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 continues;

“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

This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA) for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.
For subscription information visit http://lists.ctbirding.org/mailman/listinfo/ctbirds_lists.ctbirding.org

More information about the CTBirds mailing list