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RE: Mimicry of human music - RFI

Subject: RE: Mimicry of human music - RFI
From: "Ranft, Richard" <>
Date: Mon, 1 Sep 2003 11:51:48 +0100
There are not many examples of wild birds in nature mimicking human music.
Our archive has an example of a wild Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) that
rendered a perfect arpeggio, but without proof as to whether it was mimicry
or coincidence.

But cagebirds have been tutored by humans to produce music.  The best
examples I know of were German folk-song singing Bullfinches (Pyrrhula
pyrrhula) studied and recorded by Jurgen Nicolai:
Nicolai, J. (1959). "Familientradition in der Gesangcentwicklung des
Grimpels (Pyrrhula pyrrhula L.)." J Ornithol 100: 39-46.
Nicolai, J. (1991). "Folksong singing Bullfinches." unpublished: 7.

Copies of the recordings are in our archive and are truly astonishing. The
birds accurately reproduced full folk songs and if interrupted, would
continue the song from the start of the full phrase, as if they shared the
human sense of musical 'melody'. You will be able to hear and read about
these in the forthcoming book and CD 'Nature's Music' edited by Hans
Slabbekoorn and Peter Marler (pub. Academic Press).  I don't have a
publication date but it's in press right now.

Richard Ranft                              
Curator, Wildlife Section,      
The British Library Sound Archive,               
96 Euston Road,                       
London NWI 2DB, UK.
voice: +44 (0)20-7412-7402/3
fax:   +44 (0)20-7412-7441
WWW pages with fully-searchable on-line catalogue at:


> Syd Curtis wrote:
> >A non-recordist friend recently asked me in a letter whether 
> birds ever
> >imitated human music and whether composers ever copied 
> bird-song.  The
> >latter I can answer at length, (having corresponded with 
> Olivier Messiaen
> >when h ewas alive), but not the first.
> >
> >There is a story of a lyrebird chick raised in captivity and 
> learning to
> >sing by copying flute music.  He was later released and his 
> "flute" songs
> >were taken up by that lyrebird population.  That's the 
> story.  It's been
> >disputed.  I think it probably did happen.
> >
> >But somewhere in the distant past, I'm sure I read of 
> something similar
> >happening in Europe.  A Blackbird, maybe.  And I think it 
> was documented in
> >some scientific journal.  Can anyone help me please, with a 
> reference?
> >
> >TIA
> >
> >Syd Curtis in Australia


Now exhibiting at the British Library Galleries: 

Painted Labyrinth : the world of the Lindisfarne Gospels 

Until 28 September 2003.  Admission Free. 


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