mozart and the starling

Passarello_starlingElena Passarello at VQR:

We still know very little about the starling brain, really. Our science is only just catching up to the species’ complex body and behavior, some 225 years after Mozart’s death. Among our recent discoveries is a sturdy musical form inside one type of starling song. Though the structure allows enough variation for one starling to sound nothing like the next bird over, all courting males organize their love songs in a four-part sequence of Whistle, Warble, Click, and Screech.

Each bird begins with a set of repeated whistles—a kind of reedy introduction. Next, as the feathers at his throat seethe and puff, he weaves a run of maddening musical snippets—as few as ten or as many as thirty-five—curated into descending tones. Some of these snippets are filched from nearby species (or lawn equipment, or cellular phones). It’s here, in this second movement, that the “Twin-kle Twin-kle” meets the chackerchackerchacker, the smoke alarm, and the Bee Gees. Without stopping, he then slams into the third section, that of the percussive click solo. Syncopated and note-less rattles shoot from his beak at presto speed, as many as fifteen clicks per second. And then he ends with a fortissimofinale of loud, exclamatory shrieks, enough to wake the neighbors.

more here.