I was watching the Ximungwe female recently when the call of a Village Weaver caught my attention.
I happen to know this particular call very well because of a village weaver that I found fallen from its nest after a storm and which I reared. It’s obviously due to my relationship with that tiny bird that I reared that that particular call has a special significance for me, but it got me wondering about people’s relationships with bird calls in general.
I’ve noticed over my time as a ranger that guests tend to be quite in tune with the more prominent bird calls out in the bush. The soft coo of a Cape Turtle dove, the high pitch call of an African Fish Eagle or the friendly whistle of a Whitefaced Duck… these are some that catch people’s attention.
What many people don’t realise though, is that some bird calls have a far more prominent relationship with people than a simple noticing of an ambient noise.
Handel, Beethoven and Vivaldi all at one time or another incorporated the call of the cuckoo into their music, while even Mozart was said to have used notes uttered by his pet starling to compose with (although at one point there was horror when the starling sang in G# instead of G!).
It is not for nothing that many birds are said to sing rather than call, and larks and nightingales, some of the better known song-birds, have both had their vocalisations incorporated into music.
It is even possible that the origins of human melody lie somewhere in birdsong.
Ancient Hindu Vedic chants in the Andru Pradesh region have been found untraceable to any ancient tongue, yet they have been proven to closely mimic the songs of two migratory bird species; the Blyth’s reed warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum) and the common whitethroat (Sylvia communis).
It seems clear then that there is a far deeper relationship between humans and birdsong than just a superficial appreciation of their pretty noises. At least in some cases.
Now that it’s summer and there are literally hundreds of species in song on the reserve, it’s easy to tune most of them out as simply white noise. However, knowing what I know now about our history with birds, and particularly the more tuneful ones, I think I’ll be paying closer attention, and not just to the Village Weavers…