Sunday, September 9, 2012

Birds & Music To My Ears

As we know from my post 2 months ago about birds and the night sky, I do like to look at how birds enter our popular culture, so I thought that this month I’d take a look at birds and music. Some of the stuff I'll mention may be very familiar to you, but others could be a little on the obscure side (some of the music I listen to is not exactly “mainstream”). I’ll mostly concentrate on popular music, with maybe one or two diversions as we go along.
Bald Eagle - Homer, AK
One of the more popular songs which mentions birds, from my generation anyway, is by the Steve Miller Band, Fly Like An Eagle. Like most “bird songs” it’s not really about birds – this song is really more about social issues – just uses them to help paint a lyrical picture.
Singing male Red-winged Blackbird - Merritt Island NWR
Another very popular song, from The Beatles, is Blackbird, a song that is really about the civil rights movement in the 1960s. A least a couple of others from the Fab Four mention birds – Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) and And Your Bird Can Sing – but only use “bird” in the context of British slang that means a young woman.
Northern Mockingbird - Florida
Mockingbird is another well-known song originally recorded in the 60s by Inez & Charlie Foxx, then again in the 70s by Carly Simon and James Taylor. It’s also been done by a lot of other performers, too, though the aforementioned artists had the most chart success.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - St. Mark's NWR 
Jackson Browne’s The Birds of St. Mark’s is a haunting song about the troubles a young performer is going through in her life, and birds are only mentioned in the chorus. Not sure what “St. Mark’s” is being referred to – the song was written in New York – but I always think of the wildlife refuge in Florida when I see the title or hear the song.
Laughing Gull - Fort DeSoto Park, Florida
Heading into the land of “not so well-known performers” for a pair of examples, Sister Seagull is a song by late 70s British band Be Bop Deluxe (still one of the best band names ever, in my opinion). My interpretation of this one is the song’s subject is just a metaphor for a girl friend or lover; the use of birds metaphorically certainly seems to be a trend anytime they’re mentioned in popular music and there are very few actually about real birds.
Snow Goose - Bosque del Apache NWR
Another less well-known (at least in North America) British band that started in the 70s (and would record and tour for about 30 years) is progressive rockers Camel. Their third release, in 1975, is an instrumental "concept album" titled Music Inspired by The Snow Goose. Written by Paul Gallico, The Snow Goose is a very popular short book set in World War II Britain, and the goose is a central part of that story of friendship. The album is the band's interpretation of the book.
Gambel's Quail - Arizona
In classical music, I often think of the woodwinds imitating bird calls (a nightingale, a quail, and a cuckoo) near the end of the 2nd movement, By the Brook, in Beethoven’s 6th, the Pastoral Symphony.
Lincoln's Sparrow - Texas
Returning a bit to more familiar performers, Dan Fogelberg had at least a couple of songs early in his career with Corvid references: Crow and As The Raven Flies, but one I really like only appears on his live album from the early 90s, Greetings From The West. Titled A Cry In The Forest, it is a very moving song about extinction; the words to the first verse are:

There's a cry in the forest, 
it's feathered and brown 
And it echoes off of nothing 
as the trees come down. 
It's the sound of a sparrow 
hittin' the ground
It's the sound of one 
eternity bound 
It's the sound of one 
eternity bound

The next verse is about whales, and then the chorus goes like this:

Whoa eternity bound 
Once they’ve passed into the timeless, 
they can never more be found. 
Is there anybody listening, 
tell me can you hear the sound? 
Of the gentle ones 
eternity bound 
Of the gentle ones 
eternity bound

(A Cry In The Forest lyrics ©Dan Fogelberg)

 I just love this song!

I know I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface - tell us in the comments the songs you know about birds or that make you think of birds!

- Kevin Doxstater


  1. Fun post Kevin! As always, I enjoy your bird photography.

  2. Excelentes capturas con unos fondos buenisimos,enhorabuena.Saludos

  3. Super post Kevin! I loved the musical connections woven into this post and the photography, as always, is exceptional. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is an inspired post Kev! Only you would come up with the idea of combining your passions for music and photography, and end up with a great post for a birding blog. Am bowing to the master :-)

  5. w - o - w with your photography on each of these beautiful birds. I guess it was the ruby-crowned gamlet that stole the show for me this time, but your bald eagle in flight is spectacular too. They're each wonderful!

  6. Thanks everyone - glad you liked my post and the photos! I guess I love birds so much I look for them in unusual "places" and enjoy seeing how they find ways to fit into our culture.

  7. @Pat - Don't worry, I have some other ideas if I can come up with enough material - if I watched more TV and movies I could probably come up with a bunch of bird bloopers (Red-tailed Hawk calls when they show an eagle or the Ringed Turtle-dove when Lt. Dunbar gets to Fort Sedgwick in Dances With Wolves would be a good start).

    Thought of some more songs while walking Ginger tonight, too: Rockin' Robin (Bobby Day), Bluebird (Buffalo Springfield), Hummingbird (Seals & Crofts) . . . :-)

  8. Excellent captures. Top class Julie !

  9. Love the musical connection to birds Kevein and as always I enjoy seeing your images.

  10. A very unique and wonderful post! Your photographs are exceptional!