Art. L.—New Zealand Bird-song: Further Notes.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 25th October, 1916; received by Editors, 30th December, 1916; issued separately 10th December, 1917.]
It has often been questioned whether any similarity exists between the song of birds and the song of human beings: whether birds modulate their voice in intervals agreeing with those that build up the scale of the octave. That it is possible for them to do so is evident, since they are able to slur from one note into another, through the full octave, in the same way that the human voice is able to do. Yet most writers, if they theorize at all upon the subject of bird-song, contend that birds do not sing with regular or constant intervals, and “would not deign to be fettered with a scale.”* Writers are, however, inconsistent among themselves. It is commonly admitted that the cuckoo sings a minor third at the commencement of the season, increasing the interval regularly through a major third, a fourth, and a fifth, as the season advances; and so constant and well known is the common cry of the bird that it is reproduced mechanically in whistles and clocks. Witchell† states that the calls of the redstart, nightingale, chiff-chaff, willow-warbler, and white-throat are in upward fifths; and he has, further, recorded‡ the singing by starlings of a phrase consisting of three fifths of different pitch. The rise of a fifth appears to be a natural one, for the tendency of the human voice to rise a fifth has often been noted.§ It is admitted∥ that occasionally the notes do agree with our notes, and the intervals with our intervals; and a reluctant admission seems to be made that birds may occasionally, and as it were accidentally, stumble on the same scale of sounds that the professional musician uses.
But a little reflection must compel something more than a reluctant admission. Fowler, himself a musician, maintains¶ that birds do not dwell definitely on any note, but modify it by slightly raising or lowering the pitch, and sliding insensibly into another note, forsaking that for a subdued chuckle or trill, descending or ascending through fractions of a tone. Surely the most casual listener knows that birds do dwell on single notes, and repeat single notes of different pitch clearly and in succession. And in human singing, is it not the finished singer who, besides singing single notes of even pitch clear and true, also blends notes in slurs and trills, until we say she sings “like a bird”—implying a decided compliment? When a singer is out of tune, there is a failure to pay due regard to exact intervals: how often is a bird heard singing out of tune, despite its raising and lowering of pitch, its chuckles and its trills, and its sliding insensibly from one note into another? Moreover, standards of taste in human song differ: to most European ears the song of the Maori is monotonous and unmusical
[Footnote] * W. W. Fowler, A Year with the Birds, ed. 3, 1889, p. 149.
[Footnote] † C. A. Witchell, The Evolution of Bird-song, 1896, pp. 113, 116.
[Footnote] ‡ Witchell, loc. cit., pp 83, 84.
[Footnote] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, vol. 25, under “Song,” col. 2.
[Footnote] ∥ Witchell, loc. cit., pp 231, 232: Fowler, loc. cit., pp. 257, 258.
[Footnote] ¶ Fowler, loc. cit., pp. 257, 258.
in the extreme. Yet the Maori thoroughly appreciates his own music, and appreciates in addition the music of the European, singing it, as well as his own, with facility, fidelity, and undoubted art. Birds, too, are able to learn human tunes; and the powers of natural mocking-birds are too well known to need remark. Do not such powers prove the receptivity of birds to be akin to that of man, and their discrimination to be as keen as his—for do not human beings, too, first learn by imitation?
In Maori music, it is not the apparently small compass of the song that makes it distasteful to many ears, but the free use of quarter-tones.* Then why is not the song of birds with small compass distasteful? Again, if failure to adhere to the recognized pitch of notes and recognized intervals cause a song to be out of tune, why do not the songs of birds sound out of tune? The very fact that they are tuneful and pleasing to practically every human ear is surely fact sufficient to give one pause before stating that their notes do not conform to the scale accepted by musicians. Did they not conform, their sound would be found intolerable, simply because they would be different from the standard to which we are accustomed. They are, of course, full of slurs, trills, vocalizations, changes of timbre, to an extent quite beyond the human voice or any single musical instrument; but the basis on which they are built is none other than that on which the music of the human voice and of musical instruments is built, and the one notation serves for recording them all.
The scale in music is usually held to be an artificial subdivision of a range of sound lying between two notes, one of which is composed of twice the number of vibrations per second that composes the other. This range is called an octave, and it comprises seven different notes, rising in pitch in a definite series from the lowest to the highest. The eighth note has a difference in pitch from the lowest, and a certain difference in sound; though if the two are sounded together a single appreciable sound results: their vibrations coincide, and, in addition to the coinciding vibrations, the higher note has an additional vibration midway between each coinciding pair; so that whilst one sound results when both notes are sounded together, the ear is easily able to detect its composite quality.
When, then, two notes, one an octave higher than the other, are sounded together, the singleness of the sound is apparent only. It is quite evident that there must be two sounds in the resultant note, and the ear is easily able to detect both. Furthermore, if the lower note be sounded alone, the ear is still able to detect the upper, though with much greater difficulty than when both are sounded together. Nor is this imagination only. The motion of every resonant vibrating body is more or less complex. It vibrates as a whole; and this, the principal vibration, gives the principal and predominant note. At the same time, it vibrates in two equal parts, each part vibrating with twice the frequency of the whole, and producing accordingly a note an octave higher, but very much fainter, than the principal note. Nor is this all. The wire or string, supposing it to be a piano or violoncello in question, is subdivided into quite a number of portions, all vibrating with different frequencies from the whole string, and so producing different sounds. All are normally, however, vibrating in definite and comparatively fixed proportions. The string is, as it were, divided first into two portions; then into three, four, five, six, and so on. Where the division is into two the vibrating parts give a sound an octave above the
[Footnote] * Sir G. Grey, Polynesian Mythology, 1885, Appendix, pp 225 et seq
principal note, their rates of vibration being double that of the full string; where the division is into three, the vibrating parts give a sound a twelfth above the principal note, or a fifth above the first octave; where the division is into four, the vibrating portions give a sound two octaves above the principal note, as their rates of vibration are four times that of the full string; where it is into five, a sound a seventeenth above the principal note, or a third above the second octave; and so on. The full note is, in fact, composed of quite a number of different sounds, called harmonics or partial tones. Whilst they are present they are exceedingly faint, the smaller the subdivision producing them being the fainter being the sound emitted, and the less distinguishable from the much fuller body of the principal note. The ordinary unaided ear is able to detect the first four or five partial tones only; yet the presence or absence of these and the higher partials determines the richness and quality of the resultant sound. The vibration of different materials produces different partials, or produces them in different degrees of intensity: the human voice is rich in the lower partials; in cymbals and like “noisy” instruments the upper partials predominate. The nasal quality of the oboe and clarionet is caused by the absence of the even partials—the second, fourth, sixth—and the presence of the odd—the first, third, fifth, seventh.
The harmonics or partial tones of the open G string of the violoncello are represented in the subjoined diagram:—*
The first partial tone is the principal note; the second is produced by the string dividing into two parts; the third by its dividing into three; and so on to the thirteenth partial here shown.
It seems hardly credible that such a number of notes should all be sounding when the G string is set in motion, yet the fact is, by mechanical means, quite demonstrable. It is easy for the ordinary unassisted ear to detect at least the lower partials. If the G be struck on the piano, and the sound be allowed to die away by keeping the damper from the wire, as the principal note becomes fainter the third and fifth partials, D and B, are heard, faintly but clearly. The second and fourth partials, being the first and second octaves of the principal note, whilst heard as clearly as the third and fifth, are not so readily distinguished, as they do not differ in actual sound, but in pitch only. They may be heard in this way: Hold down the key of the principal note, G, without striking the wire; then strike the G above it—the second partial—and after a second or two release the key, still holding down the lower G. The sound of the G struck, and of the G an octave above it—the second and fourth partials—will now be
[Footnote] * From Momigny, Grove's Dictionary of Music, Harmonics.
heard most clearly; and that they are heard in the string of the lower G, which has been set in vibration by the string struck, is made evident by the sounds ceasing immediately the key of the lower G is released. Thus it is evident that the unassisted ear is able to detect the first five partials, or four besides the first partial, the principal note: some ears are able to detect more than these.
The result of this is far-reaching. Lower the fifth harmonic one octave, then strike the principal note G firmly, and immediately afterwards the second, third, fourth, and the fifth lowered an octave, together, lightly, as in the diagram. The sounds of the second to fifth partials, heard faintly when the principal note was struck, are now accentuated, and the common chord of G has resulted. This means that whenever a note is sounded the common chord of that note is also sounded, and is heard by the listener, though he may not be conscious that he hears it, as he may hear the ticking of a clock and not be conscious that he hears it until it stops, or until he consciously directs his attention towards it. He is conscious of the change in quality of a note, and this change is caused by a subduing, or an accentuating, of certain partials. The four partials heard with the lower G as above are the principal notes of the scale; the intermediate notes are derived from the higher partials.
Whilst, then, the scale, as a scale, may be an artificial production, the notes of which it is composed are natural productions, all sounding, in varying degrees of intensity, every time a musical note is produced. Science did not invent the scale; it merely explains the manner in which the scale came to be used unconsciously by singers from time immemorial. It must be remembered that until music came to be written in harmony—that is, about the seventeenth century—there was no need for the term “scale.” Mankind had been singing its melodies for hundreds of years without knowing such a term, and without feeling any need for it. Their ear was probably as true as the ear of the most skilled musician of the present day; certainly their melodies were equal to his in beauty. Not that the melodies themselves were fixed, they were common property, and singers varied them as the mood inspired, and as the ear allowed. It cannot be said of any particular melody that its preserved form was the form in which it was sung; all that can be said is that that is how it was sung at least by some. “Scales” were unknown, and “bars” also; and that it is possible to confine the old wild-song melodies within modern scales and bars is proof that the ancient artless music and the modern art of music have a common basis. All that is claimed for birds is that this common basis is the one on which their song, too, is built.
The figures accompanying this article contain the new notes observed since publication of the paper in the Transactions of 1914 (Trans. N Z Inst., vol. 47, p. 593). As before, 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 Trans. N.Z Inst., vol. 41, p. 422; vol. 43, p. 656; vol. 45, p. 387; vol. 47, p. 593. Reference is at times made to these earlier-numbered variations.
The few new notes were heard at Pangatotara, Motueka Valley, in January, 1916. The theme of (87) was heard on the 7th at early morning,
in the grey dawn before the thrushes started their song. The notes, occupying about three seconds, were very musical, clear, and flute-like, inclining to a bell-sound. On the 8th at twilight, when almost dark, the notes of (88) were repeated: time occupied by the phrase, one second. On the 9th (89) and (89A) were noted. The sound vocalized tiu was on G, but being uttered, apparently, with a wider aperture than the accompanying flute-notes, the sound differed in quality: the final G, though of the same pitch, was perfectly flute-like. Besides the tiu there were other little breaks or catches heard when the bird was near at hand, the high notes of the bubbling song, sounding very softly, appearing to escape amongst the others. The song was not, therefore, clear and sharp unless heard at some distance, when the intruding notes were lost; and when yet greater distance subdued the tiu also, (89) sounded simply as D, C flat, G, C flat, G. Time taken, little over a second.
On the 17th, two tuis began their song at a quarter to 4 in the morning, when grey, but too dark to read print. The thrushes, and other English birds, began at 4, and all, tuis, thrushes, &c., stopped at half past 4. The first tui to begin sang (90), repeating it over and over with but slight pause between the repetitions, the phrase taking about a second. Another tui broke in now and again with the variant (90A), but with notes of quite a
different quality from (90), being hoarse, almost unmusical. Later the second bird, judging from the direction of the sound, changed to (91). The rrrr had no musical quality, but was merely a vibrating sound exactly imitated, except in intensity, by vibrating the uvula without emission of breath. One, sometimes two or more, bubbling notes followed the rrrr, then a bell-note, and lastly two half-vocalized bell-notes. The bubbling notes were barely audible when audible at all, and I surmised, by the pause that often occurred between the rrrr and the C, that many times the notes were i audible to me where I lay in my tent.
Referring to the note in Transactions of 1914, vol. 47, p. 598, regarding tuis singing in harmony, Mr. C. Howard Tripp has forwarded further letters on the subject, extracts from which follow:—
Mr. B. M. Moorhouse, Timaru, writes: “I have several times heard the ‘morning chorus,’ principally in Peel Forest, twenty or thirty years ago, and have often been struck by the immense volume of sound, and not a discordant note that I could distinguish. I am not an authority on musical matters, but believe I could distinguish an harmonious combination from a medley of musical sounds, and the music I have heard was always such as to make one leave off any work or occupation to listen and be enthralled. I have only, so far as I can remember, heard it at sunrise, and then only for a short time. You mention tuis only, but it was my impression that
the bell-birds also joined in, but I am not sure. So far as I remember, one bird used to start, and then all the birds within earshot joined in. In any case, I remember it as one of the finest pieces of orchestral music I ever listened to. I have lately spoken to two or three others, who agree with me in most of the above remarks.”
Mr. W. H. S. Moorhouse, Wellington, writes: “I was on a boat at anchor in the harbour [at Port Hardy, north of D'Urville Island], and just before daylight a single bell-bird started a few notes, and almost immediately afterwards thousands of birds from every side of the harbour started a most glorious chorus, which continued for three or four minutes and then as suddenly ceased. It was not possible to determine the notes of the different birds, any more than an amateur could say what instruments composed a huge band. The chief songsters in the harbour at other times were tui, bell-bird, and lark; also the smaller birds were in great numbers—ground-robins, fantails, white-eyes, &c.—but probably these would not join in the chorus. At the time I speak of the whole harbour-sides were clothed with dense bush, which I find on my last visit has almost entirely gone to give place to sheep. The year was 1902, December”.
The song (14) was heard at Khandallah (near Wellington) on the 24th October, 1915. The sound was almost a whistle, but half-vocalized as noted. The song was made up of the theme, shown between the double bars, repeated several times without break, the theme taking about two seconds, so that if repeated five times the song lasted, say, ten seconds. The very soft
introductory note was not repeated with the theme; only at the opening of the song. The two pairs of slurred notes were at times three pairs. The most characteristic song heard in the scrubs, shrubberies, and clumps of native bush about Wellington is that of (15), varied as in (15A) and (15B). The notes, which may be twenty or more in number, arranged in pairs, are sharp whistles, unslurred and unvocalized. The eight pairs of (15) were uttered in about four seconds, and were heard in Tinakori Road on the 26th October, 1915, the ten pairs of (15A) being heard in the Botanical Gardens
on the 3rd November, 1915: their pitch was G A, G A, on the 1st December. The notes are more deliberate than those of (14). They are at times whistled as the prelude of the tweeting song, and may themselves be preceded by tweet-tweet, tweet-a-tweet: they are, however, more often whistled alone. On the 1st December the tweet-a-tweet was a fifth lower in pitch than the lower note of the pair. No notes were heard in February, and occasional notes only in March; but through the rest of the year 1916 these whistling notes were heard more or less every day. They are monotonously regular, their chief variation being in pitch and interval. On the 10th April, 1916, they were B C, B C, and on the 12th the B was slightly raised—less than a semitone. On the 27th April the interval was very small, as in (15B), and probably the interval was even less; the opening C was little more than half-flat. In singing this theme the whole, including the two introductory vocalized notes, was repeated four times or more. Usually the accent is decidedly on the first note of the pair; at times the accent is absent, and the sequence of the notes of the pair can be gathered only from the opening or close of the theme; at times the accent is on the upper note, when the interval, instead of sounding an upward one, sounds downwards, as in (18). On this occasion (12th September, 1916) the bird sat quietly on a bough whilst singing these notes, variously vocalized as indicated, following them with a faint tweeting. Another, singing the common high whistle, also falling instead of rising, sat on the bough with beak wide open, slightly closing it at each drop of the sound. It was never still whilst singing, facing first in one direction, then flitting round and facing in another. On the 29th August, 1916, the common upward whistling notes, half - converted to tweeting, were sung by a bird whilst flying with another in playful evolutions.
On the 21st May, 1916, a sunny, dewy morning, with thrushes singing freely, the song (16) was heard, sung by a black fantail. Two birds were together, and the song, with its tweety introduction followed by whistled triplets, was very characteristic and charming. It is usually the pied birds that are observed singing; but as the number of these is, in this district, much greater than the number of black birds, no inference may be drawn from this fact. The notes of (11A) are probably call-notes. They were uttered, some five notes in two seconds, by a pied bird, another answering, and the two gradually approaching. The notes differ in vocalization only from those of (11) (Trans., vol. 45), being vocalized chit, chit, instead of ti, ti, the vowel sound being the same. The triplets of (17) were very quickly sung, on the 24th August, 1916, the nine notes being uttered in little over a second, and the whole repeated several times. The effect of these triplets, with their curious vocalization tweedle-a, was quite different from the vocalized triplets of (14), or the whistled triplets of (13) and (16). The notes of (19) may perhaps be considered a variation of the common whistling song: it is in pairs; the high notes are preceded by a vocalized pair tweet-a or tweet-tweet; but the high notes are here also vocalized rather than whistled, and the song is broken into short repeated phrases. When not otherwise specified, these variations were noted in the Botanical Gardens, Wellington.
The Grey Warbler.
The more I hear of the warbler the higher is my estimation of its gentle song. The characteristic nature of the song, rising or falling triplets, soon becomes familiar, and may be heard almost every day in the environs of Wellington. The whole of the variations noted below were heard in the
Botanical Gardens unless otherwise specified. The varied phrase (26) was heard in Crieff Street on the 25th August, 1915; (26A) was there repeated many times, and again in various parts of the Kaiwarra Valley on the 7th and 8th September of that year. In (26A) the triplets rise instead of falling, and the place of the middle quaver is taken by a pause and semiquaver. When at a distance the theme ended at the double bar; but when near the bird a faint note followed, so that it is probable the faint note always followed when the phrase was repeated. When at a distance, too, the triplets often sounded like a single note. No. (27) is a variant of (26A), heard on the 4th October, 1915, in the Botanical Gardens. The opening notes were here
pairs instead of triplets, and the final soft note was a slur, vocalized tiu (tee-oo). The phrase was often repeated many times in succession. The pitch and the final note were varied as in (27A) on the 29th October, 1915, and, again, these opening pairs were at times triplets. The pairs often sounded when the bird was close at hand, and there was then no intermediate faint note: the value of the notes was rigidly observed by the bird. The phrase (28), heard on the 23rd October, 1915, usually opened with a few indeterminate notes, the phrase itself being several times repeated with these opening notes omitted. It was varied on the same day as in (28A).
No. (29), with its many variants, was the most characteristic song heard about Wellington during the year. The type of this song may be taken as (29) or (29B), and the typical variation as (29C). In these the intervals are true to scale, and the “time” is also perfect, the phrase making a complete four bars of two-eight time, as indicated in (29). The last triplet,
as in (29B), was at times absent, when its place was taken by a pause, or it was very faintly uttered: in fact, it occurred in all gradations between complete silence and the ordinary loudness of the rest of the melody. This curious variation of the loudness of adjoining notes is best exemplified in other of the warbler songs, such as (30). It is in variations of the type song that intervals other than those of the scale occur, as in (29A, E, F, and G).
No warbler was heard during February; on the 2nd and 3rd March the song was heard once, and again on the 10th, 11th, and 12th. On the 18th the variation (29A) was heard—the first time the half-sharp was heard during the year; but again on the 13th July (29E) was heard, and (29F) and (29G) on the 19th July. The differences in pitch were most noticeable: (29F) was heard in the Botanical Gardens, (29G) in the Sydney Street Cemetery.
These differences in the type song, and in others, cannot at present be explained by me, if any explanation be necessary. I think it very evident that individual birds have individual songs, and, again, that different localities, and perhaps even different years, have different songs. The difference in individual birds is comparable with a like characteristic in human beings: in songs not sung from music all sorts of variations distinguish the rendering by various people of the same song; and some, in addition to other differences, sing flat or sharp. The type song is often opened with a rambling theme of uncertain notes, which is not repeated with the theme, and apparently forms no part of the song itself: this is unhesitant and confident and clear. Such a rambling theme is given in (30); and when the soft intermediate notes are so soft as to be inaudible the effect is very much as the rambling notes of (1). No. (30) was noted on the 28th April, 1916. Following an opening similar to (29A), the theme (31) was sung on the 10th April, 1916, the rests being occasionally filled with faint notes as in (31A). These faintly sounded notes produced another result in (32), heard on the 18th April, 1916. At a distance this sounded as written—a long note followed by a higher soft staccato note. On nearing the bird, however, the long note, which should perhaps be a dotted crotchet rather than a dotted minim, was resolved into triplets, as in (32A). The high staccato note formed the third note of the second triplet, though it sounded like the introductory note of the following triplet. They were very quickly uttered, the whole of (32) taking under two seconds—perhaps nearer a second and a half. Another quickly uttered song is the unusual one of (33), heard on the 1st June, 1916. The burden of this sounded very like cheerily oh, ye oh; but the “i” in the first ti ri are short, like the “i” in “hit,” the others like “ee,” the Continental “i.” The first eight notes, including rest, occupied about a second, and the rest were taken at like speed. It was an almost continuous strain, repeated, after the staccato slur tiu, in irregular order, sometimes one of the pairs following the six opening notes, sometimes two. It may be the vocalization of the staccato slur that caused the apparent drop of an octave. It should be noted that this drop at the finish is characteristic of Maori songs. The warbler notes are often near vocalization, but this theme was exceptionally distinct.
Another departure from the song common during the year was (34), heard in Crieff Street on the 9th June, 1916. The theme, up to the double bar, was repeated two or three times the first time sung, then once at intervals, each time occupying about a second and a half. The bird was alone, busily searching in a tree-lucerne for insects as it sang. The vocalization of the deep note was distinct, the others were softly warbled. No. (35) was heard on the 28th October, 1915, the song being several repetitions of this phrase; (36) was heard at Pangatotara, Motueka Valley, on the 9th January, 1916, the theme taking about two seconds, and being repeated three times or more in succession. The descending triplets of (37) and its variants were like a rapid vibrato, twelve notes in perhaps two seconds. In (37) there were two birds, the male, presumably, singing. He was darker than his mate, who flittered from branch to branch, lower in the tree, with
wings quivering as if to the vibrato of the song. She was pale dove-grey on the breast—a beautiful soft colour—and darker on the back. This pair, seen at Khandallah on the 27th August, 1916, was the first to give an indication of spring. The song was varied as in (37B), descending in semitones. The variant (37C) was heard in Wilton's Bush on the 23rd September, 1916.
A variant of the rambling song is (38). This consists of two parts—the opening and the part between the double bars, the repetition of the latter, twice or more, constituting the main part of the song: heard on the 27th August, 1916. It was varied as in (38A), heard in Wilton's Bush on the 23rd September, 1916—a theme very quickly sung, all in about a second, repeated three or four times. It was still further varied as in (38B); and this, too, is a lovely variant of the type song, rising and falling instead of falling and rising, in the manner of (27) and (27A). The song was heard in the distance on the 10th October, 1916; and, judging by songs of like nature, it would sound as (38C) if close at hand. No. (39), a theme repeated three or four times, is another curious vocalization, heard in Wilton's Valley on the 23rd September, 1916. At a distance the theme ended with a rest, but near at hand the rest was filled with a soft slur, and this was repeated each time with the other notes.
The Shining Cuckoo.
In the summer of 1915 I first heard the cuckoo, in the Botanical Gardens, on the 6th October. The two upward notes were repeated four or five times, but no down slur. It was heard again on the day following, and on most days thereafter until the end of the year. I did not hear it after my return from the Motueka Valley at the end of January. The down slur was first heard on the 22nd November, when the first notes were.
G A, and the slur G F. The day was sunny and warm, after cold weather, and all the birds were lively. The down slur was F to B three times repeated on the 11th December, after upward slur G to A six times repeated, and after a pause F B, F B, a pause, and again F B. The opening notes were also G A at Pangatotara, Motueka Valley, on the 16th January, 1916.
In the summer of 1916 I first heard the cuckoo on the 25th September. I was in Wilton's Bush, and, hearing the down slurs, took them for the notes of a practising thrush. But I was undeceived when the ordinary upward slurs sounded, followed by the down slurs. I had been attracted by a beautiful pendulet of white clematis looped in the upper branches of a graceful putaputaweta (Carpodetus serratus), and was seated under this tree when the cry sounded. I did not, however, see the bird until it flew off, though it had been sitting on the high bare branch of a dead tree just above me. It had probably been perched, cuckoo-wise, along instead of across the branch. The notes were those of (6). I have not been able to
note that there is an increase in the interval between the notes of the slurs as the season advances: such increase of interval does take place in the well-known cry of the European cuckoo. I did not hear it in the Botanical Gardens until the 17th October, a warm day following cloudy and rainy weather. On the 19th a new element was introduced into the song. In the pauses between the down slurs an indefinite number of triplets, one, two, or three, were sung very softly, vocalized as in (7).
The Blight-Bird (Silver-Eye).
On the 21st April, 1915, I was seated indoors near an open window, at twenty minutes past 9 in the evening, when I heard a twittering, almost singing, that lasted one or two minutes. I was in Armagh Street, Christ-church, near the old Provincial Government Buildings, and thought the birds were in the shrubberies opposite, and went out to investigate; but the sound then seemed in the air, and passed away, apparently to the south-east. It sounded like scores of birds, all twittering the two notes of (a) in (5), or (b), or (c), or (a) and (b) combined, now one, now the other
—a medley—individuals could not be distinguished. The interval of the slur was hardly a semitone. The night was chilly, dark, and overcast, and perfectly still—no breath of wind. The note had the characteristic plaintive sound of that of the blight-bird; and I remembered Mr J. Hard-castle, of Timaru, saying that he had one night heard what he thought to be the twittering of small birds passing overhead, and the twittering was as the cry of the blight-bird. On the 22nd May, 1916, (6) was noted in the Botanical Gardens—a quick, soft-toned whistle, followed after a pause by the usual slurred cry: the part to the double bar occupied about a second and a half.
The cry commonly heard in Crieff Street is as in (9):