Me and my song thrush

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It’s so tempting to think they do it for us.

They don’t, of course, any more than the setting sun and the crowns of the trees produce their subtly mesmerising light show of late-winter beauty for our benefit. It’s just what they do. That we happen to stop in our tracks and murmur ‘oh’ and ‘wow’ and ‘gosh look at that’ is a happy coincidence.

As was the song thrush.

It had been one of those walks, the kind that isn’t quite as long as you first intended because you get waylaid by a couple of dozen redwings and a long-tailed tit or two, and then those jackdaws chacking around and ooh look starlings and COOT FRACAS and is that a goldcrest I hear?

Amazing what you can see when you take the trouble to look.

By the time I got to Dulwich Park it was beginning to be going-home time, except that there was this song thrush, see, and I couldn’t go home without communing with him. He seemed so keen. And I was convinced he was doing it for me. I could hear him from the park entrance, probably about two hundred yards away, the penetrating sound travelling across to me like a call to arms.

It would have been rude not to.

On the way to my tryst with this wantonly magnificent songster, I passed someone who I’m 95% certain was Olivia Colman.

It’s that kind of park.

But the song thrush didn’t know or care about that. (I did care about it, and it was all I could do not to stop her and tell her how MAGNIFICENT she was in The Favourite and I’m so chuffed how well she’s doing because I’ve been a fan for ever so long and god that sketch about the proms in the Mitchell and Webb thing on the radio made me laugh SO much, but I’m very disciplined when it comes to celebrity-bothering so I just walked on by with nary a glance Colman-wards well done me).

All the song thrush wanted was to advertise to the world – and specifically to any female song thrushes who might have happened by at that moment – his overwhelming urge to procreate. And this he was doing with verve and élan.

How to describe the song of the song thrush?

Not shy, for starters. You’ll hear it from some distance, given clear air. Quite the town crier. The voice manages to be both strident and warm at the same time – not the harsh squawk of a parakeet, for example, but sharper than a blackbird’s mellifluous outpourings, with the odd shrill squeak dredged up from somewhere deep in the syrinx.
Here’s how the Collins guide transliterates it: ‘kücklivi kucklivi, tixi tixi tixi, pii-eh, trrü-trrü-trrü tixifix, chü-chü-chü, ko-ku-kiklix ko-ku-kiklix…’

Like so many transliterations of birdsong it’s quite fun to read out loud, but for identification purposes not really that useful, merely demonstrating how helpless we are when faced with the task of describing the strange and beguiling language of birds. But what that weird collection of syllables does convey is a key feature of the song thrush’s output, something that comes in very handy when you’re trying to sort out which bird is which by listening alone.

Repetition.

The song thrush loves to repeat a phrase. It’s something to listen out for. They have a wide range of phrases – up to 100, so I’ve read – but they repeat them. Sometimes three or four times (making a total of four or five iterations, in case your inner pedant was stirring).

So if you’re out and about in the next few weeks, and you come across a bird shouting ‘Hear ye!’ Hear ye!’ from the top of a tree, with a stridently warm voice, an extensive repertoire and a penchant for repetition, as likely as not it’ll be a song thrush.

And if it happens to lift your heart and captivate you for a few minutes and leave you feeling the world is a slightly better place than you’d given it credit for, and if you walk home with a little extra spring in your stride, then that, I’m afraid, is pure coincidence. They don’t do it for us.

But we like to think they do.

2 comments

  1. Love this. I’ ve been listening and struggling to identify UK birds for a good few years now. Thank you for adding another to my tiny bird knowledge bank 👍

  2. I had a Woodlark giving me my own ‘private recital’ last week, or at least that;s what it felt like! Your last paragraph encapsulates my feelings perfectly!

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