The Charm of Birds Chapter One Part Four

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Adapted by Alison Pryce

Chapter One Part One    Part Two     Part Three    Part Four    Part Five    Part Six    Part Seven

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 the song-thrush.

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.

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