Next, let us consider a song-bird that attracts us not by
smallness but by size-the mistle-thrush. He is the largest bird we
have to whose performance the word " song" in its narrower sense
can be applied; but it would impoverish pleasure in birds so to
restrict the thought of song. Every bitd shadd be included that
has what appear to be joy-notes associated with courtship or some
pleasant emotion, entirely distinct from the call or alarm notes.
The curlew, the peewit, and the hooting of the brown owl are
examples of this.
The mistle-thrush may be heard in mild winters before
January, but I think of his song as generally beginning in that
month: to be listened for then as a sign of reviving life in a new
year. He is a bird that occupies a fixed station; that takes up a
" stance" for the express purpose of singing. This is one
distinction that may be noted in the habits of song-birds: some
sing from a fixed place, others sing as they go about their
business of the day. Of the birds already mentioned the robin
belongs to the first category, the wren, I think, mainly to the
second, as do also the summer warblers.
The mistle-thrush mounts to the highest convenient stance he
can find: he will resort to this same place day after day, like
His song suggests to me a linked phrase, and here we come
upon another possible classification of song-birds-those that,
like the mistlethrush and blackbird, express themselves in a
linked phrase; repeated, after a pause, with slight, if any,
variation: those whose song suggests rather a sentence than a
phrase; this is repeated at intervals and is, as a rule, the same
time after time. Of this the willow-warbler is a typical example.
Thirdly, the birds whose song seems to be an improvisation of
separate notes, not unlimited indeed in variety, but so indefinite
in arrangement that we cannot be sure what notes are coming next.
The song-thrush is the most complete and familiar example of this
type of song.
The mistle-thrush is best appreciated in
January and February. Not that he sings better then than later on;
indeed his song is more perfect in April, but it is very good in
the two first months of the year, and it stands out clear in the
then comparatively silent air. There are boldness and wildness as
well as sweetness in the tone. It has not the rich and moving
quality of the blackbird, and yet it stirs us. For on a windy day
in January, when the blackbirds seek the shelter of laurels and
thickets and have not a note of song in them, the mistle-thrush
sings, aloft and conspicuous. There is, it has been well said,
"weather in his song." Birds as a rule seem to dislike wind more
than any other sort of weather, but the mistle-thrush is less
discomfited by it than any other song-bird. On a windy day early
in the year the" stormcock" will mount his tree, and there in full
exposure proclaim by song that he is vigorous and glad. Every year
he deserves to be honourably and gratefully saluted.