14 February 2008

Singing in the trees

Several times over the past week or two, the song of one particular bird in our yard has almost drowned out all the other birds' songs. I'm not complaining; it's nice, melodious singing. I just heard it a minute ago, and I went outside to see if I could spot the bird. And I did — it likes to sit and sing in the very top of our tallest tree, which is a fir tree of some kind. Walt had seen it up there last week, after noticing a lot of loud chirping and warbling.

This morning I came back in and got my camera, hoping to take a picture of the song bird in question, even though the sun hadn't risen yet and I didn't have any great hopes that there was enough light for a telephoto picture to turn out. By the time I went back out on the terrace, camera at the ready, the bird had flown away.

Thrushes in a Peterson's Guide illustration.
The American robin is a thrush, for example.

Walt did get a look at said bird last week, and he looked it up in our books. He thinks it's a thrush — maybe a mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus), which is a large bird that, according to The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe, "sings in all weathers, from tree-tops."

The mistle thrush is so named because it likes to eat mistletoe berries, and we have a few big clumps of mistletoe in the apple trees in the back yard. Our French bird book, Les Oiseaux de France by Jean-Claude Chantelat, says you frequently see a mistle thrush or grive draine « perchée à la pointe d'un arbre lançant son chant assez semblable à celui du merle noir » — perched in the very top of a tree singing its song, which resembles a blackbird's song.

Winter sunrise through the trees at La Renaudière
13 February 2008

Or our friendly song bird might instead be the smaller song thrush or grive musicienne (Turdus philomelus), which Peterson says has a "loud and musical" song, which Chantelat calls « sonore et mélodieux. » All the thrushes also eat insects, larvae, and worms, so we are glad to have them around the yard and garden for that as well as the nice singing.

Whichever bird it is, I hope it stays around for a while.


  1. For a description of grive musicienne look at
    in French.

  2. That's a nice picture of the sunrise - good shot

  3. A bird with such nice feathers and pretty song deserves to have a nicer Latin name.

  4. Thanks, The Beaver. And CHM too — I looked at that site. I wish there was something there about the grive draine.

    Chris, I agree with you. But that's a cultural and linguistic bias. Yesterday I bought some liquid plant food for house plants called Terdor...

  5. Terdor could also mean "Terre d"OR" . If only you can harvest gold nuggets :-)

  6. To tell the difference between the two thrushes, listen for repeated patterns. If the bird is repeating the same melodic phrase over and over and over you have a Song Thrush, and if it occasionally switches to sounding like one of those whirring rattles that sports fans used to take to matches, it is a Mistle Thrush. Mind you, it could just be a Blackbird. Have you had a good enough look at it to see if it is brown and streaky down the front or is it black and evenly coloured all over?


  7. sonore and melodieux. how nice.

  8. here's a recording of t. viscivorus, i'm sure the site would have your other possibility too.


  9. Hi Susan (and Simon), yes, we have seen the bird and it is definitely a grive (thrush), not a merle (blackbird). Its song is louder than a blackbird's, but otherwise similar.

    And PJ, thanks for that site. After listening to the Mistle Thrush song, I'm 99% sure that that's it. It sounds much more like that than the Song Thrush song on the site CHM sent.

    Thanks to all. I hope the Mistle Thrush will be back this morning. We heard its song several times during the day yesterday.

  10. Turdus philomelus is such an improbable name :))
    Of course, the Romans didn't speak English! ;)


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