Birds are not musicians; they are songs

White-Throated Kingfishers sound like a jackhammer in the hands of a jazz drummer. Asian Koels can be mistaken for star-crossed Shakespearean strangers cooing goodbye one last time. Black-Winged Kites shriek as though they are auditioning for musical satires. If the world was any crueler, music labels would hire poachers to hunt down Malabar Hornbills, and steal their summer playlists.

The most beautiful bird call I have ever heard belongs to a whistler in an electric blue coat. Found in the Western Ghats, it is the Beethoven of alarm clocks.

I first heard its call during the summer of 2014. I was on an evening stroll at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It had started to drizzle when I walked past the gate. I tucked an umbrella under my armpits and confidently went ahead.

An hour went by before it began to pour. I had to take refuge by a tortoise-shaped tourist store. A family of Bonnet Macaques, out in the rain, were glaring at me. I was hogging space in their shelter. The skies didn’t look like they were in the mood for love. I waited a few minutes before deciding to head back to the cottage.

I felt a little defeated. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to spot birds for the rest of the day. Maybe I could get into staring contests with moths later at night. They cheer me up. But I needed immediate relief.  And so I put my headphones on.

Music is my first line of defense whenever I am upset or angry. It makes a long-distance swimmer out of me. A marathon runner, distancing himself from an unfortunate situation. An attentively-thumped bass note. A row of piano keys touched in all the right places. A singer crooning about chasing storms. They wreck me in beautiful ways.

It was thundering by the time I reached the cottage. But I was too engrossed in the music to pay attention.  I put the backpack away and sat on a chair in the balcony. I saw a Malabar Whistling Thrush on the railing, at an arm’s length from me. I had seen my first one earlier that year in Kodaikanal.

Malabar Whistling Thrush, Munnar

I took off the headphones and ran inside to get the camera. It wasn’t the most well-coordinated dash. I was distracted by a satisfying heartache of a whistle. It was a lovely melody. And I had not a tune on my playlist, or in recent memory, with a tenderer note.

By the time I could take a photograph, it flew away. The whistling continued, though. The sun retired, and the rain followed suit. The piercing call of the Malabar Whistling Thrush didn’t stop until the last light of day disappeared. The birding websites were right. It did sound like a carefree child, exhaling a merry tune.

Some of my other favorite bird calls include those of the Common Iora, Marsh Harrier, Grey Francolin, Malabar Hornbill and Tickell Blue Flycatcher.

Good music flows through me, like a stony brook. It washes my kidneys with rich minerals and swaddles my lungs in stretched-out waterlily sprouts. By the song’s halfway mark, I spin gently out of control. Collapsing. Effortlessly. Willingly. I know not which direction I am heading towards; rather unclear about where I came from too. But I know that right then and there – I am immersed in its warm currents. Swept off my feet by its delicious pacing. The iridescent charms. And all that good stuff.

Some ear candies:

Rolfe Kent – Lost Olivos

Paul Cantelon – The Wall

Jon Brion – Sydney Doesn’t Speak

Mark Mothersbaugh – Zissou Society Blue Star Cadets

Hooverphonic – Mad About You

Tin Hat – Cloud On A Leaf

Alt J – Tessellate (Live at the Africa Centre)

Sigur Ros – Olsen Olsen

Rezső Seress – Szomorú Vasárnap

Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody No.2

Illaiyaraja – Johnny

Kurangan – David Foster Wallace

Kurangan – Mugamoodi

Avial – Ayyo




Break me down 
into loud staccatos,
and stack me up,
unbroken and still,
like dusted LPs 

from whirlwind

(Photographs: Kodaikanal, Thekkady, Chennai, Munnar)

36 thoughts on “Birds are not musicians; they are songs

Add yours

  1. … and they are dreams floating on clouds, and magicians in colours we do not have any names for..I love this post Christy…’Melancholy flows through their music like water’, well indeed..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Is there a greater joy than when something hits the right note-sometimes a look, sometimes a whiff, sometimes a song and sometimes just a whistle. Glad you found yours Christy. I sure found mine, with this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww man, this comment made me feel so good. Thank you. I keep thinking that I come across as pretentious and cheesy, the way I describe my love for them, and then you say something as sweet as that.

      Thank you!


  3. There’s a bird I love, I know not its name.
    I grew up listening to its morning calls, so much that I learned the tune. And now I wish to hear it call, if only just one more time.
    Lovely post, you’ve struck a gentle chord. And you certainly know your birds and their songs. 👌🏽😊👏🏼

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow thank you, how I wish I could…I honestly never saw it, or if I did I can’t quite be able to describe it.
        I’m from Nairobi,Kenya.

        Liked by 1 person

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