The Charm of Birds Chapter One Part Six

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Adapted by Alison Pryce

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

The song-thrush shall come in at this point, though it is not so easy to decide his place as might be supposed. If it were the Avon or Itchen Valley that was being taken for the example of song, I should say that the thrush after his midsummer silence begins to sing again in October, and continues to sing in mild weather till the next mid-July. On Sundays in November in the South of England, when I have been out for a walk with lunch in pocket, a thrush has, by his singing, decided the choice of a spot for luncheon. Indeed, in the South of England the thrush has only little more than two months in the year of complete abstinence from song. At Fallodon there is a great difference of habit: after the summer the thrushes leave the garden and woods. Very large numbers are to be found in turnips, collected there presumably by the attraction of some abundant supply of food. But when this is exhausted or the turnips are pulled, the thrushes do not return to the garden and woods about the house. When hard weather comes the lime trees close to the house become like a rookery of blackbirds waiting to swoop down on food put out for them. If there is a single thrush there it is remarkable. Yet thrushes in spring are as common as blackbirds about the house. Where are they in winter? Great numbers of thrushes are to be found on the links in winter, and the fragments of snail shells to be seen round many a flat stone there explain the presence of the thrushes. I have not observed whether this autumn and winter withdrawal of thrushes is peculiar to Fallodon and places like it, separated from the coast and yet near enough to it for the thrushes to be influenced by the attraction of the links and the snails thereon. Nor can I say whether these thrushes on the links are the same birds that have left and will presently return to the garden; or whether they are more distant migrants. One thrush, which was so tame as to be distinct from others, was to be seen at the cottage in Hampshire during every month of the year except December and January; and as I did not see him in those months only because I did not visit the cottage, there is no reason to suppose that he went away at all. For three or four years he was there, which is sufficient proof that some thrushes move as little in the year as some robins or blackbirds.

At Fallodon it is an exception to hear a thrush sing in the autumn, and not till January do they return to the garden: sometimes they do not come till February, but as I have heard one sing as early as the 11th of January in a very mild winter, the thrush shall be considered as beginning his song here in that month.

The thrush has a variety of notes, but the order in which he gives them is improvised. We may listen to a thrush for a time without hearing the notes we most desire, for some of his notes are much less agreeable than others; a musical phrase resembling "did-he-do-it?" may be repeated two or three times and then abandoned for some other notes. In fact, the manner of the thrush when singing gives an impression of selection and choice of the sound that he will make next. He sings perched in a tree, to which he has mounted for this purpose. There he will maintain his position and his song for some time, especially about dawn and sunset, preferably on the same tree day after day, pausing in his performance as if to select and choose his notes. Probably if buds were to be regarded as endeavouring to please us by song, the thrush should be put first among British birds. He does not rank in the very highest class for quality, but he certainly comes high in the second class. His is undoubtedly a major song, and owing to the number of thrushes, their persistent singing and the many months in which they are to be heard, we hear more of their song in the South of England than that of any other bird, except the robin. In song the thrush seems to be working very hard to please, and he succeeds. His song, too, can give a very pleasant impression of quiet contentment as well as of exultation.

Occasionally a thrush will introduce some freak sound and make it part of his song. Many years ago an attempt was made to keep white-faced whistling ducks in the collection of water-fowl at Fallodon. They are not hardy, but one of them survived for about two years, and being very tame, as is the manner of its kind, the whistling note with which it saluted everyone it saw became the most distinct and familiar sound in the garden. In January it died. In the following April we came home for Easter, and from high up in a silver fir by the pond came a perfect imitation of the call of the white-faced whistling duck. It was made by a thrush, but the bird did not continue the imitation after this spring, though it was often to be heard during that Easter holiday.

Another example was that of a thrush in the garden at Wilsford in the Avon Valley. For four seasons, at least, it sang continually during May and June on two notes; they were none of the usual notes of thrush song: they were as monotonous, but louder or more staccato than those of a chili-chaff; and the persistence and monotony of them were wearisome. Nevertheless we listened for them every season in the same region of the garden. Last year (1925) my wife and I ascertained by close observation of the bird that he could and sometimes did sing the ordinary song of the thrush, so that his preference for loud monotony was due, not to incapacity, but to perversity. His freak song was not an imitation of any other that I know. So remarkable and well known did the sound become that the bird came to be spoken of in the family as "Monotone." We never heard him in the autumn or winter, but in spring the first hearing of " Monotone" was noted, welcomed, and announced with as much satisfaction as the first news of a chili-chaff or willow-warbler.

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