The Feathered Composer

'That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!'

Trush songbird

The above is an extract from 'Home Thoughts, From Abroad': a poem by Robert Browning depicting the natural delights of spring.

Mr Browning's observation is very true, as the Song Thrush does indeed repeat phrases whilst in song; sometimes even exceeding 4 repetitions.  And although the thrush is well known for his musical voice and tone, some of the phrases can be more tuneful than others.  This is because the thrush has a canny ability to mimic the calls of other bird species: making it their own; they've even been known to add their own rendition of the likes of the cuckoo in their repertoire.  And in the past, I myself have excitedly mistaken what I thought was an unusual whine from a bird of prey, to actually being a bold little thrush.

But why the need to incorporate other bird language into there own song?  Well, when a young male thrush starts off in life - when they're not busy smashing the living hell out of a snail - they naturally have the delightful song of their fellow species to master.  But once he's up to grade 8 in thrush, he soon learns that his female audience is quite the music critic - with an eclectic taste to boot - and playing the same CD over and over again isn't going to cut the mustard.  So, like any savvy composer, he borrows the phrases and tones from other songsters.  Thus, with a good ear,  it is said that you can distinguish whether you're listening to a juvenile or a more mature song thrush by the variety of their repertoire.

On the other hand, it is well know that many human composers have borrowed, or at least have been inspired by birdsong; Ralph Vaughan Williams: 'The Lark Ascending' being the obvious.  And there are even essays on Beethoven which explore parallels between his compositional motifs to the calls of the blackbird, the yellowhammer, and of course our pop idle, the song thrush…


… hmmm, X Factor for birds - now that's a show I'd watch!


Daniel's Song Thrush design is available as a greetings card and as part of the Songbirds coaster set

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