In January 2016 I did a short blog post on a pied male blackbird (Turdus merula) we’d been seeing around a lot. We’ve seen a pied blackbird intermittently since then, and yesterday it put in appearance after quite a period of absence. I snapped some photos on my crappy camera, so the quality isn’t the best, but it gives an idea of its markings. Click on all photos to enlarge.
We had thought it was the same bird, but from comparing the photos of the two, it seems that they are different birds. Our newcomer seems to have a ‘Z’ of white on the top of his tail by his body, whereas the 2016 one didn’t. I wonder if the newer one is perhaps the son of our other one.
Blackbirds (Turdus merula) are one of my favourite birds. So any time they are celebrated, I’m happy. Here’s a brief look at three very different groups of musicians from the UK who have been inspired by one of our loveliest native songbirds.
A male blackbird, Turdus merula. Photo by Sannse.
In early May this year Radiohead released ‘Burn the Witch‘, the much-anticipated first single off their first album in five years, A Moon Shaped Pool. The song was teased by the band with a short, enigmatic snippet of footage, of a stop-motion bird singing to the sound of a blackbird’s song.
When ‘Burn the Witch’ was released, we could hear that the blackbird’s song was the introduction and the coda to the song, and that the lyrics ‘Sing a song on the jukebox that goes / Burn the witch’ and ‘Sing the song of sixpence that goes / Burn the witch’ referenced the traditional British children’s rhyme, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence‘, a rhyme that refers to four and twenty blackbirds being baked in a pie, and later to a blackbird pecking off a maid’s nose. Jolly stuff, these traditional rhymes, but aptly fitting with the grim subject matter of Radiohead’s song.
Just the other day I discovered that what I had long-thought to be an image of a range of evening sunlit limestone peaks reflected in still waters of the Thai coast on the cover of Kate Bush‘s double album Aerial is in fact a waveform of a blackbird’s song. (Observation was never my strong point).
The cover of Aerial by Kate bush, featuring the waveform of a blackbird’s song.
And birdsong, predominantly blackbird song, is featured throughout the album. ‘Prelude’, the first track of A Sky of Honey, the second disc of the album, starts with a male blackbird singing, followed by a wood pigeon‘s call which Bush then mimics; the track ‘Sunset’ refers to blackbirds singing at dusk, and features the song of a blackbird at the very end of the track and merging into the next track, ‘Aerial Tal’, where Bush mimics the call of one in the style of an Indian taal; and the final track, ‘Aerial’ features more blackbird song (and a blackbird alarm call) while Bush laughs.
And of course the most famous use of a blackbird’s song in modern music is in ‘Blackbird‘ by the Beatles: in the latter part of the song a male blackbird can be heard singing.
Here they are, without accompaniment. In all cases, this is the spring song of the blackbird. They do sing later on in the year, but the spring song is the best.