Art. LI.—New Zealand Bird-song: Further Notes.
[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 4th December, 1912.]
The figures accompanying this article contain the new notes observed since publication of the paper in the Transactions of 1910 (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 43, p. 656). For convenience of reference the variations in the notes of each species of bird have been numbered consecutively from (1) onwards, the earlier numbers appearing in the Transactions of 1908 and 1910; reference is at times made to these earlier numbered variations. When notes were heard on one day only, the date on which they were heard follows the number.
The notes of (25) have the sound of the tinkling of a distant sheep-bell. They varied from four to six in number, and also varied slightly in pitch on different days. They were uttered a good deal faster than the bell notes of (1), their time being about five to the second. The notes of (26), similar in quality to (25), were not always followed by the drop to c, and were still more seldom followed by the expletive clit; this latter was, indeed, only heard with these notes on the 31st December, 1911. On this day, too, two clear anvil notes preceded, and the guttural aurr followed (27). The sheepbells took the place of the previous year's vesper bells. In (29) the last two notes (d) had a reedy quality, broader and more blatant than the note of a clarionet, yet musical. In (28) the sheep-bells were preceded by a cry like that of a goose, plaintive and melodious; the drop on d was staccato, and the cry would sometimes take kraw krurr after it in place of the sheepbell. The cry when uttered only once was more drawn out and melodious than when uttered several times, as in (30). Here the notes were connected, but not slurred. Other than the goose cry, I could think of no similar sound excepting the hypothetical sound of a bell through a kazoo, suddenly muted as it struck the e. It might approximately be vocalized vii-ù vi-ù. This was the sound-effect it first had upon me; later it did not seem to be followed by the drop to e, but by gaurr only. It might be likened to the cry of a goose with a cold; less musical than (28). Later in the day it was more distinctly e only (31), and the sound was like that of a vibrating membrane having a resonant chamber to give it body; or like the vibrating of a reed to which adhered a loose thin strip of metal, adding a rattle to the reed. These five notes were sounded in about 2 seconds. They varied in number from one to seven, never more than seven, and usually four or five.* A long-drawn, high, sweet, very soft note, two octaves higher, sometimes preceded the reedy cry, which, too, was sometimes succeeded by aurr, making the full theme of (32). When the bird made this reedy cry it stretched out its neck, opened its beak very wide, and beat downwards with its head at each note, as though its head were a hammer, and that action produced the note on the air anvil. The high soft note was one of the “bubbling” song. There was a catch at the end of each reedy note on the day (32) was taken, down, vocalized by ke-oo ke-oo—with a swell on the e, whose sound was short, as in “net”: the catch was the oo, audible only when close at hand. The oo had less of the reedy tone, and the catch was evidently caused by a sudden change in the shape of the aperture through which the sound was produced; at times this gave the impression that the oo was an octave lower than the ke; but I think the difference was in the quality and not in the pitch. At times the ke-oo had the sound of howw, the pause on the w bringing back the oo.
[Footnote] * On the 29th December, 1912, and on the 2nd January, 1913, the notes had the sound of a deep clarionet, very resonant, vocalized eoo eoo eoo.
The sound of the note changed during a fortnight from a clear anvil ring to the reedy sound in an acute form, with a rattle, mellowing again towards an anvil sound. People in the locality, life-long dwellers by the bush, declared it to be a new cry—an assertion warranted by its variability: one likened it to the sound of a cracked anvil, another to the knocking of rusty iron pipes. There were not more than three or four birds in the bush that gave utterance to the cry; one particularly noticeable sat on the same totara day after day, well in view. Bell notes and reedy notes were at times played off one against another, as in (33), so it is evident that the new note was produced of the bird's own volition. On the 7th January, 1912, the sound was distinctly like the twang of a jews' harp, the shape of the open lips being altered for the e-oo whilst breathing on the twanging metal tongue. Other variations are given in (34), (35), and (36), the relative pitch of the expletives being also shown. The kitty or clitty of (36) was the same as the clit of (26), with a short sharp after-sound added. The bird from which these variants were obtained flew off with a sustained vibratory note that made it sound as though the bird were a flying aeolian harp. Other expletives, heard at various times, are shown in (37) and (37A). The reedy notes of (38)—vocalized vioo vioo—were on one day followed by three notes more like a clear whistle than the usual bell notes; those of (39) were in quality between bell and whistle. The full theme (40) was heard only on one day; at times the first half would be sung alone, and at times the second; occasionally only, the full song.
In (41) two full bell notes were followed by faint after-notes, as though the hammer of a chiming bell had just touched again on the rebound; the division between the note and its quasi-echo was barely discernible. A short note with double rebound, making a very rapid triplet, is shown in (42); this sometimes preceded the reedy note, sometimes succeeded it, but was usually heard alone: it had an open, vibrato, clarionet sound.
The full notes of (43) were uttered about two in a second; the short sharp initial notes reminded me of a swinging creaking sign-board—if the creak could be sublimated into music. The last two notes of (43) and its variant (43A), preceded by two very sharp and abrupt sounds tiu tiu, were sung once as a duet, the two birds singing alternately or together (44). Often the g was vibrato, as though the bell were struck very quickly and lightly with a wooden mallet. The duet was very pleasant to listen to; but far sweeter was a love-song, preluded by the exquisite theme of (45). The vocalization instantly took the words “Sweet, a longed boon.” The bird sat high in the sunlight of a giant totara; I sat in the shadow at its foot. When not singing the delicious theme of (45) the tui was song-bubbling to himself in an inarticulate and barely audible ecstasy. His subdued throat-rapture was so soft and so varied, and the notes so rapid, and broken in interval, and again so runningly blended in whistles, sighs, clucks, and constricted sounds, that nothing could be noted definitely, and it could only be likened to a light and liquid fall of music from the bell of a convolvulus.
On the 14th January, 1912, the bubbling song was often heard, and was extremely beautiful Unless quite near the bird, and not always then, the intervals could not be distinguished sufficiently for noting by me. The song (46) opened and closed with a sharp clut, a sound like the opening
and closing of the mechanism of a musical box. This song lasted little over a second; (47), almost like a quick jangle of bells, took under 2 seconds: the sequence of the notes constantly varied. The theme of (48) was rather a bell-jangle than a bubbling song: the latter songs are an octave above the former—so highly pitched, indeed, and so softly uttered as to be inaudible to many human ears; folk may see the bird throbbing in song, but hear no sound. When heard, it is of extraordinary beauty. The song (49) was sung during flight. Whilst the notes constantly varied, there is probably a definite number of themes; for (48) was noted several times, and other combinations became familiar; indeed, it was only after hearing a theme repeated that it acquired sufficient definiteness to be recorded. As beautiful as the theme (45) was another, (50), whose sounds were easily vocalized Og naar hun er naer os (And when she is near us), at which point the tsrr switched off the secret, the song being continued even more softly, allowing but an echo of its sweetness to be heard.
A bright sunny day on the 2nd January, 1913, warmed the tuis into singing many charming bubbling songs. The bird that sang (51) sat with his neck outstretched, moving his head from side to side: the sweet bubble of the first three notes broadened to a most mellow soft bell sound on the g and e; the bubbling continued after the click, but I could not catch the sequence. In (52) the last two notes, whilst bell-like, had a more nasal sound, and the bird leaned forward, using more energy whilst giving utterance to them. In the beautiful (53) there was a curious click up to the tremolo a, and a similar upward click opened (54). In (55) the last note sweetened and dwindled away into silence. One bird repeated (56) many times, it being at times considerably louder than the bubbling song, especially as regards the first three notes, vocalized No doubt, dwelling on the double vowel. The drop to e flat was a slur, as was the final rise to f. There was yet more of (57), but it was sung so lightly that I could not distinguish the intervals. The last note of (58) was touched very lightly, and was most staccato in effect. The opening note was extremely peculiar, and was heard only on this day. It was like aah oo, breathed only, with a vibrating uvula—exactly like a gargle, in fact, so that the bird's gargle sweetened its throat for the song following. The beauty of the song was greater than the beauty of the simile—so far as beauty is greater than truth. These bubbling songs almost seemed beyond the bird's volition; they were like an escape, a running-over, from a full treasury of sound-jewels. They were often followed by a sweet long-drawn cry on f (59). The commonest songs were bell jangles and runnels: one would suppose the bird to be “preparing” for singing, for he emitted more clicks, clacks, and gurrs than musical notes, sounding like the snapping and intermittent whirring of clockwork, as though his musical box had been undergoing seasonal repairs, and was being tested as to its mechanism.
The jangle (60) was usually heard just after the tui had settled from a flight; it was often confused from a beautiful jangle to an elfin juggle of bells, when it was difficult to distinguish either pitch or interval, though the last note was usually definite, often remarkably sweet, as containing the concentrated essence of all preceding. The jangle (61) was very commonly heard, the whole phrase lasting little over a second, all the notes being very mellow and bell-like, the two lowest, on e, being more open and sweet; the second e was often d. The jangle was often confused by the introduction of one or more light notes, as in (61 A); there were others introduced, but I could not fix them with certainty. The jangle (62) lasted nearly 2 seconds.
The pairs of (63) were not absolutely definite, but the effect was as written: they glided smoothly across the intervals, but were not slurred; as in (61), the lower notes were more open. This jangle also was uttered in less than 2 seconds. Jangle (64) took barely a second; (64A) was a slight variation, enclosed between expletives; (65), occupying about three-quarters of a second, opened with a barbaric twang on the c—whilst a jangle, it was smoothly legato.
These jangles sounded as though the bird merely set free the mechanism, and then the bells producing the notes swung freely in no determined order—though many jangles were many times repeated. There was an allied series, however—bell cascades or runnels—where the bird seemed to exercise more control over the notes, each runnel being distinct, clear, and orderly. The cascade (66) occupied about a second; the sound was as a mellow bell–almost flute-like, with broad nasal opening. A very clear runnel was heard in (67): the notes, whilst not staccato, were well divided. (67 A) was a curious variant: each occupied about a second. The runnel (68) was preceded by a long light note on e, and succeeded by a diminishing note on a, the whole occupying a second and a half. The trebling of the notes of the sequence of (69) gave this runnel a distinctive charm. The opening and close of (70) related that runnel to (68), but the runnel itself, a common one, was quite different. It may be noted that the jangles and runnels were generally sung during flight, or immediately before or after. The notes of (71) were clear whistles, followed by kraw; or one whistle might precede four reedy notes, as (71 A); or four whistles might be separated from four anvil notes by a kraw, as in (71 B). The three low notes of (72) were not bell, nor whistle, nor reed, but a thick muffled sound like qug qug qug; at times they were sounded singly, at times followed by kraw. In (73) two bell notes were followed by a staccato whistle, the whole followed sometimes by a click; once there was a still further addition to the click of kraw krurr.
One tui pursued by another cried the notes of (74), up to five pairs, the ten notes occupying a second and a half. A different cry was (75): here the pursuer uttered the first part, repeating the couple on a many times in quick succession; the pursued bird similarly repeated the slurred note from d to c sharp. The sound of the tui's flight is on the note of (76): a mackintosh shaken quickly and vigorously will give the quality of the sound. Once it could be vocalized furr-a-ea—fuff fuff fuff. At times, through this fuff fuff of the wings, one could plainly hear a sharp krr, followed by a long-drawn, soft, highly pitched, but rather sweet note (77)—as though the mechanism of the wings grated occasionally and creaked during motion. The sound of (78) was also produced during flight; it was like one of the horn-sounds of the multifarious-voiced motor-car. In (79), a very characteristic phrase heard very frequently on one day, the reed note was at times omitted; at times the full phrase was repeated several times in succession.
Whilst not so plentiful as the tui, the bell-bird was seen often in 1911–12, sometimes at very close range. One came flying into a tree with the cry tiu tiu tiu—a cry it has in common with the tui—and at once began prying busily under the leaves, hopping quickly from twig to twig. It would pause for a moment to give utterance to the common theme of (13), then on again searching for prey. The pitch again constantly varied, and it was very difficult to catch the intervals, the note giving the most difficulty being the
high e, which is touched much more lightly than the others. The whole phrase took little over a second in utterance, and was very clear and bright. Occasionally a light note or two preceded the phrase, as in (14); these light notes appeared to take the place of the notes producing the tiu of (7). A bird would often sit in a tree repeating a single note, tiu, at approximate intervals of 3 seconds. It was a short, sharp, clear note—a hiccuped drop of song that one could imagine as falling from the bird with a bell-like pat into some resonant receptacle: the bird ejected the note almost as one would spit a hair from the lips. I saw one bird in a shrub of Pseudopanax, 15 ft. distant, uttering the note. The bill was opened fairly wide, the throat swelled quickly and contracted, once to each note; the phrase (13) some-times followed. In the shrub there seemed to be an answer to the tiu—a plaintive slurred a to a flat (16). Only one bird was seen, however, so it may have been indulging in soliloquy. In the variant (17) there were two exceedingly highly pitched notes, as in (11); in (17 A) the natural g was dropped an octave. The quality of the notes appeared to vary the pitch, those of different pitch being susceptible of different vocalizations. The opening varied—sometimes tiu as in (7), sometimes as in (14), or (13), or (17). Once two clear sharp notes (18) preceded the tiu. The notes of (19) have the sound of tu (the u as in “but”), and the ordinary song was occasionally preceded by tu, or tu tu, or tu tu tu.
A variant of (3) was heard in (20). This theme was not always sung in full—often only the first two notes, and often the first five; if only the first two, the second note was lengthened to a crotchet. On one occasion, being directly below the bird when the two notes were sung, I repeatedly heard the faint light notes of (20A) following the bell notes; they were very light and softly uttered, through a restricted aperture. Whilst the opening of (20B) was the same, the notes were entirely different in quality. They were most distinctly vocalized tlink, tlunk, tlunk, tlur, without breathing on the terminal of the k; the aperture evidently varied with each note of different pitch. When the vowel or open part of the note sounded—that is, I take it, when the aperture had been formed—there was a distinct clear bell note, the bell giving the pitch; the consonantal sounds were evidently, so to speak, the gearing-up and slackening of the vocal organs for the emission of the bell note. In the majority of instances the first two notes only were sung; often the first four; sometimes, again, the fifth followed—a most entrancing vibrating bell note on g flat, like a bell struck four or five
times with a small wooden mallet very quickly and very lightly. The effect of this note was extraordinarily sweet and plaintive, the whole theme of five notes coming like the rich voice of a contralto singing whilst on the point of tears. Sometimes the place of this fifth note was taken by a note slurred from e flat to d—a note without the bell sound, but with one more approaching that of the unwinding of a sharply jerked fishing-reel. I heard only one bird sing these notes; it sat but 6 ft. or 8 ft. above me, singing parts or the whole of the theme for some considerable time. Each pair of notes took about a second. The bird was of beautiful bright-green colour, much brighter than the duller olive of the other bell-birds seen—more of a parra keet green. The plumage along its sides was rather raggled and ruffled. Its entire body seemed to enter into the production of the notes, contracting all along the sides on the emission of each one, the neck being stretched out and the beak slightly open. It turned from side to side, singing one note to the left, one to the front, one to the right irregularly, turning through a semicircle, as though before an audience, unseen by me, of Haku-turi or Nuku-mai-tore. It raised the body with each note, as though to eject them with a jerk in the case of the first four, and to pour out the sound of the fifth, the vibrating bell. An ordinarily coloured and smaller bell-bird appeared to be its companion during part of the time I saw it. I saw it again on the following day, when the vocalization of the notes was as in (20C) and (20D); again, as before, the final closed consonants were not breathed on. The theme was even more musical than on the day before, the turr of (20C) being entirely bell-like. The quality of this bird's song was quite different from that of any other bell-bird ever heard by me, and its beauty impressed me much more than even that of the sweetest tui song. In (21) the notes were a sharp incisive whistle, and so of its variant (21 A), which occupied less than a second in utterance. The second of the first four notes in (21 A) was sometimes replaced by a rest of equal duration, and sometimes the first four were preceded by a click.
Five fantails, three black and two pied, came to call, tweeting and flirting and displaying their beauties, all practically within touch; the phrase (6), sung quickly several times in succession, was the one most often used. In (7) the twi was the constricted sound—the i short as in “hit”—but the twee of the g was more open and sweet. This song was continued for half a minute without break; not always in the order of the notes given, but in various combinations of those sounds. The bird still flirted about whilst singing, hopping restlessly here and there.
On the 10th January 1912, a fantail came to call whose body above and below was a beautiful dark brown, wing and tail feathers black. It was in
company with a little pied paragon that constantly displayed to the full its white tail with central black longitudinal bar, spreading its wings at the same time, flitting about very daintily, and tweeting with bright-eyed insouciant exuberance. In (9) and (11) the i of the ti has the sound in “tit,” the e the sound in “net”; (11) was repeated many times in succession at twilight. The song (10) was very vigorous, constricted e sounds followed by whistles on g much softer in tone; their different quality caused them to sound an octave above their real pitch. The triplets of (13) were repeated five or six times.
I am not sure that it is altogether friendliness that makes the fantail so tame, or whether it is not rather sheer curiosity and pugnacity; for on two occasions when I spoke or called fantails sitting close by me they uttered their rapid tweet tweet with mouth agape as they jerked from side to side whilst facing me. The mouth is not usually agape when the note is uttered; and, moreover, it will be remembered that when the sea-birds came in their great flock to attack the land-birds the fantail was the first to fly to the assault on the invading host, and, being put into a “towering rage,” flew forward crying ti ti, ti ti, presenting his spear to left and right.
The grey warbler.
This bird had lost all shyness in 1911–12, and was repeatedly seen close at hand, often two together, and generally singing. They were also plentiful in 1912–13. Three years ago the notes of (13) were taken down and queried as a warbler's; again, in January, 1912, (14) was noted as a warbler song, though the quality of the notes differed from the usual song, and the same of (15) and (15 A). I often followed the sound, but it was elusive as Wheke, goddess of song—often heard, but never seen. One day, however, whilst seated under a totara, I saw a warbler whilst actually singing the doubtful theme, followed by the ordinary song. No. (16) was repeated six or eight times, each set of six notes and rest occupying about a second. I was able to compare the quality of the two sounds: (16) was cheery and bright; the usual song is much softer, more plaintive, and in comparison slightly ventriloquous, so that the two songs appeared to sound from two different places, the ordinary song being the farther removed. I now noted, too, that the first note of the six was always fainter; at a distance it would be so subdued as to be inaudible, and the listener would hear odd instead of even numbers, as in (13), (14), and (15 A). An ordinary song was once opened with (17)—a quiet little chuckling guggle of notes, much softer than the song itself, and repeated in two or more sets of three notes. I saw two warblers guggling and singing within 6 ft. of where I stood. One discovered an unhappy
insect under a leaf; after the titbit he sat on a twig in the sunlight, and, with bill partly open and tail quivering, sang his sweet, plaintive, minor melody. It may have been a thank-offering, it may have been a requiem—both appropriate; but, considering the minor quality of the song and the apparent gentleness of the bird, it was most probably the latter.
Two days afterwards, on the 12th January, 1912, I again saw two feeding. They kept close together, flitting quickly from place to place. Once one of them, as it were, kissed the other—very quickly, just a peck; probably a bonne bouche was offered and taken—a grubby affectionate kiss. Now and again a very soft, barely audible, exchange of notes took place, like monosyllabic endearments. I could not detect if they were uttered by one bird only or if both took part; it was as though they were saying You! You! You! You! (18). Two were heard uttering the cry and reply of (12); and when they came and settled above me, busily peering, one continually repeated quickly the notes of (19). In the vocalization the d sounded as when one speaks the word “dear” without letting the tongue quite touch the palate. The first five couple of notes took little over a second in utterance; the tee tee was nearer a whistle. The theme of (20) was very softly sung; it was almost a bird-whisper, with a sound somewhat like the rubbing of a wet finger on glass; each group of eight notes was uttered in a second.
It looked very pretty to see the warblers searching for prey amongst the misty-foliaged Coprosmas that here and there grew in glimmering thickets under the taller trees. The birds would try to settle on the thin springy twigs, sometimes opening and closing the tail very quickly; and sometimes they would poise, fluttering, in one position, tail downwards and broadly spread, so that on the ventral side they showed a bar of white along the tips of the tail-feathers. When fluttering amongst the green leaves where the branch-tips were too delicate for foothold, the waft from their wings made the surrounding green quiver like mist blown by a faint wind.
The faint chirp of (3) was uttered whilst the bird was running up a branch, constantly flitting its wings. No. (4) is practically a variant of (1). The notes of (5) and (6) were considerably faster than the throbbing chirp of a cricket, but no louder, if as loud, and certainly not so penetrating; the slur e to c in (5) was at times a to f, as indicated. One wren, answering to another, ran down in a vibrato of quarter-tones as in (7); there would be ten or eleven notes in the drop, which only occupied about a second. No. (8) is the cry of a young wren, which came to call. It settled on a twig
immediately before my face, and each time I called it stretched towards me with extended fluttering wings, uttering the long vibrato with mouth agape. The real mother bird soon came, sat beside her extravagant offspring, and coaxed it away. The notes of (1) and (2) might be vocalized titit or tutut, in combinations of two, three, or more notes. A wren sounded this tutut whilst ascending a vine in its quick, jerky fashion; it was tutut and a jerk upwards, tutut and another jerk, as though the bird had to wind itself up for each movement, and one heard the snapping of the tiny pawls of its lilliputian winding-gear. When the note was strengthened, as in the middle part of (9), the aperture was evidently widened, from the i of it to the u of tut, and the note dropped a semitone.
The yellow-breasted tit.
The cascade song (1) was continued in the strain (4). The vibrato, dropping a quarter-tone, was so rapid that it was almost a burr or throb. The whole was sung almost as softly as the chirping song of the wren; the bird sat still, and the tail quivered in sympathy with the vibrato. On the 16th January, 1912, the cascade song dropped from b to g by five steps, so that the intervals would appear to have been slightly less than quartertones. No. (5) was noted in Kennedy's Bush on the 18th January, 1912, and was sung several times. The notes of (6) were sharp whistles; the bird usually announced his sudden appearance with these, as though they gave the warning call of the watchman of the wood-fairies. In reply to the call (7) in a series of three pairs, another bird answered with the cascade song of (1) six or eight times in succession.
The common cry of (1) was different both in pitch and vocalization in (4). A curious combination of sounds was heard in (5): it was as though a squad of raw recruits were being drilled by an irascible officer.
The long-tailed cuckoo.
Several variants of the cry of (1) are given. The tiueet of (6) was repeated alone a dozen times or more at intervals of 3 or 4 seconds, interspersed with tsiuu of (7). Whilst two birds were circling over the trees, wheet wheet wheet was repeated quickly, four times a second, many times at intervals.
The hawk (harrier).
No. (1) was a whistling cry, sharp and quick, repeated at intervals whilst the hawk circled, fairly high up, on a misty day. The shrill cry of (2) was uttered whilst flying across the bush.
The crow (Blue-wattled Crow; Kokako; Glaucopis wilsoni).
This theme was whistled to me by a North Island surveyor, who said the crow's song was one of the sweetest he had heard.
The huia (Heteralocha acutirostris).
The same gentleman also gave me the huia's cry (1). The phrase, sounded legato, repeated many times, was, he said, the cry of distress. It sounded like the words Who are you? pronounced in the colloquial fashion Who er yer?—and it is not a far cry from these words to the native name huia. The Maori call when attracting the bird was (2), repeated many times.
The whole of the above songs and notes were heard in Boleyn's Bush, on Banks Peninsula, except those given as heard elsewhere, and excluding the fantail's (9) to (12), which were heard in Christchurch.