The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 674/The Autumn Song of Birds

The Autumn Song of Birds (1897)
by Charles Adolphus Witchell
4061183The Autumn Song of Birds1897Charles Adolphus Witchell


By Charles A. Witchell.

In a paper on "The Evolution of Bird-Song" which appeared in 'The Zoologist,' 1890, p. 233, and attracted some criticism, I stated that "in autumn the young male Sky Larks, Thrushes, and Blackbirds begin to sing," and Mr. Aplin supports this statement (Zool. 1894, p. 411), saying that on account of the quality of the autumn songs it seems likely that they are produced by young birds of the year. He had never heard a Blackbird sing the autumn song; nor have I; but I have heard the young Blackbird practising a soft-warbled strain in October, in the manner of a young Thrush.

Mr. Aplin classes the Robin and Starling with the Thrush and Hedgesparrow, as commencing to sing in November, or even in October (Zool. 1894, p. 410); but the two former birds begin their autumn song (if such it be) in August (see Zool. 1890, p. 242, also 'Evolution of Bird-Song' [1896], p. 65), or earlier. I have often observed the Robin recommencing its song during the first week in August; and this year, in Kent, numbers began before the middle of July. The Starling I have observed year by year to recommence in the first week in August.

Mr. Aplin found the Willow Wren silent soon after the middle of June (Zool. 1894, p. 411); and so have I for a week or two; but I have heard numbers in song early in July (in Gloucestershire and in Kent), and this year and last dozens could be heard every morning. I have often seen a Willow Wren sing when in heavy moult. This bird is the most persistent singer of all our summer visitors, not ceasing till the middle of August. The Blackcap I have once heard in September.

I can find no distinction between the spring and autumn songs of these birds, except that the Robin makes great use of the call-note (and even of the distress-note) in its morning songs in August (and see "Bird-Songs in Summer," in 'Knowledge,' July, 1897), and that the Starling at the same period rarely utters its love-call in song ('Evolution of Bird-Song,' p. 53). The Robin's song is often employed before combat (op. cit. p. 38).

If an autumn singer makes much use of its call-note, we may infer that the song has an exotic origin, but when the call is not used (as in the Starling) it is difficult to see why we should not credit the singer with a sense of pleasure in his surroundings expressed in song; and this is the more reasonable since so many birds have a strong local attachment.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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