Birdwatchers mostly go into the field with a pair of binoculars to spot birds. The few who can afford it lug a spotting scope. But if you think you can depend on your eyes, you need not depend on any optics at all. But how about using your ears? Familiar with bird calls and songs is an advantage as you can then locate birds hidden among vegetation or are far away.
“I was in one corner of an area when I heard this growling and than barking,” recounts KC Tsang. “Now if I were not to know that this could be an owl, I would have given it a miss. So following the call, I eventually found my quarry.” Continues KC, “So in order to be a good birdwatcher, one should also get to know the different calls of the various birds.”
Take the example of the song of the Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus). It has been documented in different ways by different authors of guide books. Robson (2008), the most used guide for the region, describes it thus: “Male territorial call a loud whi-whi-whi-wu or wa-wa-wa-wa, either with a lower last note or alternating high and low (may omit last note). Also a loud hurried bubbling (probably female only).” Strange (2000) has this to say: “A diagnostic, penetrating, 4-note whistle with the 4th note lower.” On the other hand, Lekagul & Round (1991) gives: “4-note whistle, ko-ko-to-ko (sometimes rendered as one more bot-tle) the third note highest.”
Baptista et al. (1997), which is an authoritative publication on the species, records: “Loud, flute-like, hollow 4-note whistle, final note lower pitch, “orange-pekoe” or “crossword puzzle”.”
All the above authors agree that the song is loud and consists of a 4-note whistle, the last note lower. However, the rendering of the songs vary in the different publications, puzzling the not too experienced birdwatchers, if not even the experienced. And Robson (2008) hints that the female also sings.
Now listen to the recorded songs of the Indian Cuckoo as given in this link. The different songs from the different countries all show clear, distinct, 4-note songs, each a little different from the next. A sonogram of each allows one to differentiate the various songs. Obviously there are different dialects. Compare the recordings with the descriptions and you will appreciate the need to standardise the transcription of songs in guides. And obviously there is a need for more localised research on the songs and calls of the Indian Cuckoo, as with almost all other species of birds of this region.
Image by KC Tsang.
1. Baptista, L. F., P. W. Trail & H. M. Horblit, 1997. Family Columbidae (pigeons and doves). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 60-245
2. Lekagul, B. & Round, P.D. (1991). A guide to the Birds of Thailand. Thailand: Saha Karn Bhaet Co. Ltd.
3. Robson, C., 2008. A field guide to the birds of South-east Asia. New Holland, London. 544 pp.
4. Strange, M. (2000). A photographic guide to the birds of Malaysia and Singapore. Periplus Editions, Hongkong. 398 pp.
Bird Ecology Study Group » Documenting bird calls and songs
[…] Erik Mobrand posted the first account on vocalisation as far back as October 2007. We had a post after this encouraging birdwatchers to enter the world of bird calls and songs. A few responded, among whom are Lena Chow who posted an account on the subsong of a juvenile Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus), among others. Another regular contributor is Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, whose latest post is found HERE. And then we have KC Tsang’s contribution. […]