Tuesday 23 May 2023

A dissonant cuckoo in Rothbury

We were up in the Rothbury Hills yesterday, and serenaded by at least four cuckoos at various points around the circuit - these being the first of the year for me. 

The sound of this bird is, of course, absolutely characteristic - being a repeating and loud minor third (i.e. three semitones) descending interval; and was immortalized by Handel in the delightful second movement of his organ concerto in F No. 13 - coming-in after about fifty seconds:

But the third of these cuckoos was distinctly 'off-key' - repeatedly and boldly emanating the disturbingly dissonant-seeming interval of just one tone (i.e. two semitones, instead of three). 

This is something I've not heard before; although slightly-'wrong' tuning (slightly less than a minor third) is reasonably common. 

It struck me as a deliberate act of musical subversion, by a cuckoo with a grudge.      


Francis Berger said...

You are certainly aware of my penchant for cuckoos. I find this all quite interesting. I have never heard the sort of dissonance you describe. Sounds like very individual behavior. All the same, I'll keep my ears open in the next couple of weeks -- before the cuckoos change their calls in June.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - I think he was a maverick - perhaps unique... I can't imagine any other cuckoo wanting to breed with such a weirdo in case the change was hereditary, and cuckoos lost their USP.