Birds – most talented melodious singers of the nature!

Anmol dharatiki anoka chidiya

Beyond the Horizon

By Pradeep Kumar

WhatSaap, founded in 2009 by former Yahoo employees Brian Action & Jan Koum of South America, to turn world’s most popular messaging application by 2015 with over 1.5 billion users worldwide by February 2018. It is an educator too  being the primary means of communication in multiple countries, including Latin America, India, Pakistan and large parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom, Spain & France.

I got the picture of a unique bird in WhatSaap posted by someone that forced me to go for in-depth research to know its details but failed miserably.

But, when I approached present PCCF-cum-principal forest secretary Manmohan Singh Negi, an 1982 AGMUT cadre IFS officer having vast knowledge of flora and fauna, identified it as Reeves’s pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesii), a large pheasant within genus Syrmaticus, named after British naturalist John Reeves for introducing first live specimen to Europe in 1831 and  is endemic to China. It became too easy then to learn details about this majestic bird through Wikipedia.

Males, brightly plumaged with a scaled golden white & red body plumage, grey legs, brown iris & bare red skin around the eye, measure 210-cm long and weigh 1,529-g. Their head is white with a black narrow band across its eyes and an extremely long silvery white tail barred with chestnut brown. This pheasant is mentioned in 2008 edition of Guinness World Records for having the longest natural tail feather of any bird species; a record formerly held by crested argus pheasant. Its tail can measure up to 2.4-m.

Females, brown with a blackish crown, a buff face and grayish brown barred tail feathers, measure 75-cm long and weigh 949-g. They are same size of male common pheasants. There are no known subspecies, but there is some variation in plumage.

The Reeves’s pheasant is endemic to evergreen forests of central and eastern China. Where introduced, they also inhabit farmland close to woodlands. The tail of the male bird grows approximately 30 cm annually. They have been introduced for sport and ornamental purposes in USA, Czech Republic, France & UK. In latter three countries, they have built up small breeding populations and are still released on a small scale for shooting, often alongside common pheasants.

Due to ongoing habitat loss and overhunting for food and its tail plumes, the Reeves’s pheasant is evaluated as vulnerable on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and thought to be only around 2000 birds remaining in the wild. It is a hardy bird & capable of tolerating both hot and cold weather but prefer higher ground for nesting. The female lays a clutch of 7–14 eggs in April or May; the incubation period is 24–25 days. Reeves’s pheasants are often aggressive towards humans, animals & other pheasants, particularly during the breeding season. Their call is unlike other game birds, like a musical warble, sounding more passerine than a galliform bird. Their diet is vegetable matter, including seeds and cereals but fairly common in aviculture.

It is one of the 10,000 living bird species worldwide. Birds are a group of warm blooded vertebrates constituting the Aves class, characterized by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart and a strong yet lightweight skeleton.

Birds range in size from the 2 inch (bee humming bird) to 9 ft (ostrich). More than half of birds are passerine or ‘perching’. Wings, which evolve from forelimbs give birds the ability to fly, but vary according to species and further evolution has led to loss of flight in some birds, including ratites, penguins & diverse endemic island species. The only known birds without wings are extinct moa and elephant. Some bird species of aquatic environments, particularly seabirds and some waterbirds have evolved further for swimming.

However, birds are arguably the most talented melodious singers in the natural world. Birds have played a role in Western Classical music since at least the 14th century, when composers such as Jean Vaillant quoted birdsong in some of his compositions. Among the birds whose song is most often used in music are Nightingale and Cuckoo. P. L. Sclater in 1860 noted modifications by Wing feathers of a male Club-winged manakin which was discussed by Charles Darwin in 1871.

Composers and musicians have made use of birds in their music in different ways: they can be inspired by birdsong; they can intentionally imitate bird song in a composition; they can incorporate recordings of birds into their works, as Ottorino Respighi first did; or, like the cellist Beatrice Harrison in 1924 and more recently jazz musician David Rothenberg by doing duet with birds.

Authors including Rothenberg have claimed that birds such as the Hermit thrush sing on traditional scales as used in human music, but at least one songbird Nightingale wren does not choose notes. However, Starling  habitually borrow phrases or sounds from other species, the way they use variations of rhythm, relationships of musical pitch, and combinations of noted can resemble music. The similar motor constraints on human and avian song may have driven these to have similar song structures, including “arch-shaped and descending melodic contours in musical phrases”, long notes at the ends of phrases, and typically small differences in pitch between adjacent notes, at least in birds with a strong song structure like Eurasian treecreeper. This had promoted famous English poet William Shakespeare to compose.

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he:
“Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

Though Arunachal Pradesh, one of the 10 Biodiversity Hotspots of the world because of its rich flora and fauna, but is yet to be surveyed by ornithologists, but 109-pages Pocket Guide on Birds of Arunachal Pradesh by Dr. Anwaruddin Choudhury makes a difference.

I recall reporting on 23.01.19 about a bird, locally called Pralu in Idu-Mishmi language, found in three colours including black and white mostly in dense forests and the one (in picture), which was caught by 85-year-old Imu Mili in Roing and informed  by Bogita Mega.

It was identified by Lower Subansiri DFO Koj Riniya.  This forest owlet (Athene blewitti), being an endangered owl that is endemic to central India tforests. The species belongs to the typicalowls family, Strigidae. First described in 1873, it was not seen after 1884 and considered extinct until it was rediscovered 113 years later in 1997 by Pamela Rasmussen. It is known from a small number of localities and the populations are very low within the fragmented and shrinking forests of central India.

I also recall visit of a foreign ornithologolist, who was so expert to mimicry bird calls to be responded by birds from the woods immediately. This art is known as bird vocalization including bird songs.

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