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On A Lark And Its Song

Updated on March 10, 2012

Voices We Will Never Hear In America

Without most of us knowing it, here in the United States (and in other countries) when we read Shakespeare or Shelly writing in ecstasy of the sweet-throated vocalists of the United Kingdom -- we experience the same sort of wonder people there feel, when they read of our common American humming-birds. We often just don't know in a first-hand way, the thrill of being in more intimate contact with those bird species, as they are not native to this country.

As we all know, there are things that can't be bought. There are experiences that can't be bought either, and the true essence of such delights, can only be imagined. I'm fairly certain that most Americans have heard of the "lark" and the "nightingale." References to them in poetry and literature has gone on for centuries. Yet, since we have neither skylarks nor nightingales in this country, it's their voices we will not recall. However, it wasn't because early settlers didn't try to introduce them.

Our lack, goes back to something we often take for granted. We're not so gratefulĀ in this country as we should be -- that the Old World gave the New World many common place American icons. To take that thought further -- horses, cows, sheep, pigs, goats, poultry, pigeons, many varieties of bees, and many fruits, trees, and vegetables -- all were not native to the United States. They all arrived with those who came to explore and settle this country.

In a way, it's sort of miraculous that they all thrived here past belief and against the odds. Those survivors returned the favor of life, to feed and sustain and clothe, the original introducers to the New World. In another way, it's sort of sad to know that certain gifts were not America's to keep, though I'd like to think she would gladly do so. The gift of the lark and nightingale's voices was not meant to be on this continent.

In the early days, large numbers of skylarks, nightingales, and English robins were brought to North America. However, these natural jewels of nature did not fit into that rich setting. The little songsters vanished here, perishing in the fierce competition they had to face from native birds. The fact that upon being released from captivity, that they perhaps never met others of their own kind at mating time -- also contributed to their failure to re-populate here.

Lark singing his song
Lark singing his song | Source
A skylark (Alauda arvensis, sex unknown) with insects in its beak, taken by myself in the Lake District near Derwent Water, in Cumbria, England.
A skylark (Alauda arvensis, sex unknown) with insects in its beak, taken by myself in the Lake District near Derwent Water, in Cumbria, England. | Source
Skylark eggs
Skylark eggs | Source

A Musical Life

Find larks where we may, the larks all sing, and are the heralds of happiness. The world may be sad and worn and depressed, but not wherever a lark is singing -- as it is to tell us that woes are not eternal, that felicity is about us for the seeking. The larks are the optimists of the bird world, and we have need of them. It was Goethe who wrote:

"Let your trouble be, Light will follow dark: though the heaven falls, You may hear a lark."

The larks make life musical. They have a number of close bird relatives, some of which are found on the North American continent:

  • Skylark
  • White Wagtail
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Yellow Wagtail
  • Gray Wagtail
  • Pipit
  • Nuthatch
  • Horned LarkĀ 
  • Sun Birds
  • Great Titmouse
  • Marsh Titmouse
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Butcher Bird
  • Catbird
  • Nightingale

Skylark
Skylark | Source
Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Skylark (Alauda arvensis) | Source

Skylarks!

There are about a hundred species of larks, but the one best known is the Skylark. Some birds are foolishly named, but the man who gave this bird his title, merits our admiration.

There is the very essence of warm poetry and music in the name Skylark. The little soloist nests humbly amid rough grass, or concealed in a wheat-field. However, he takes his song near heaven from which it came. He is born in a cluster of grass among the clods, but he springs up into the blue depths of the sky, and makes the sunlit air the platform for his streaming song. To know the rapture of this wee one's song, you simply must experience first hand his melody.

It's a small bird and like other larks, it's the song of the male that is a delight. His song usually last about two and a half minutes, but interestingly the length of the song gets longer in the last weeks of the species mating season. Additionally, the song is always made in flight, and the females of the species gravitate to the males who can sing and hover the longest (proves their stamina and fitness). Skylarks are monogamous and usually will mate for life.

The female Skylark always nests on the grown, and lays three to six eggs each June. The eggs are pale yellow, with brown to purplish spots profusely closest to the large end.

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) | Source

Loss Of Habitat

The fact that larks are plentiful near cities where never a blade of wheat is grown, is in part answer to the charge that these birds are harmful to grain. Indeed, they are seed eaters, and they do, from time to time, claim a little grain. However, for every grain of wheat that they eat, they pay in labor of the most beneficial kind. They are also great hunters of insects, and the young larks depend entirely in their nursery days upon thousands of insects for diet.

If we were to deny the lark his tiny portion of grain, we must censor our poets, for this bird has inspired some of the finest poems ever written. Yet, as we've moved farther and farther away from being agriculturally oriented, that is exactly was has happened. It's estimated that we've lost over thirty percent of all of the lark species, just in the last fifty years.

There are two species of lark which sing. The skylark has a long two-pointed tail is one of them. The skylark is most often a bird to be heard, but not often seen. Common in Central Europe, the bird (especially the Crested Larks) spends its summers in Spain, and ranges even as far south as Africa in the winter.

No birds could be more shy than these, but once they reach their primary home quarters in Germany, they become as confident as sparrows, and can be found and seen in abundance.

Sound Of Nature - Nightingale

The Sweetest Song Of All

From the works of Hans Christian Andersen to John Keats, to Tennessee Williams, and even to the song of Bob Dylan -- the magic of the Nightingale, is the perfect bird family ending to the songs of the lark family at heaven's high gate. From the throat of the lark, it's fitting to mention this bird's song -- which has thrilled poet, princes and peasants throughout the ages -- can claim the prize, as few bird songs compare to the Nightingales.

Not unlike a soberly clad slim robin, this matchless bird winters in Africa, but comes north for its cradle. They get their name from the fact, that the males frequently sing at night (as well as in the day). Their name literally means "night songstress."

Early observers and writers mistakenly believed that the female sang. It's a loud song, with a wide variety of whistles, trills, and gurgles. The reason for the Nightingale's nocturnal fame is that few birds sing at night. In truth, only the single (unpaired) males sing in hopes of attracting a mate. Much like the rooster who crows before dark and before sunrise, it may also be a way of protecting and defining it's territory. The Nightingale's song always ends in a loud crescendo that sounds more like a whistle.

It makes a modest little nest in low shrubs and bushes, especially in the woods and hedgerows. When urged b the full ecstasy of song, it stands its ground on a green spray and sings in our face, as we halt a yard from it. Night and day it chants while its mate is brooding her eggs. If the best canary that ever trilled had been glorified immeasurably, such a bird might match a nightingale, no other can.

The canary mention gives the clue to its haunting melody, and once the note has been memorized by the nightingale, it can never be forgotten. At night when all else is hushed, the world is the nightingale's. He thrills the silence with a song so lovely, so pure, so uplifting to the heart and spirit -- he can make the saddest believe in the beauty and beneficence of the providence which fashioned these birds to minister to our delight. To my way of thinking, that's exactly what the world needs now, a little more hope eternal, found in the simple sweetness of a songbird's song.

Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)
Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) | Source

The Skylark

Comments

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    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks James A Watkins! I don't know about insights, but do know that I try very hard to make sure that the seemingly mundane enjoys the limelight it deserves.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      What a beautiful Hub!  The Lark, the Nightingale. What treasures!  You continue to amaze me with your insight into the seemingly mundane.  Thank you for this rich experience.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks Christoph Reilly! Indeed it is lovely.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 

      9 years ago from St. Louis

      Love it! The song is lovely.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks BrianS! Certainly predatory birds are a part of the puzzle, along with the crops that are grown in a region, use of pesticides, and the insects.

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      9 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      I think some of the small birds here in the South of France having been enduring some pretty harsh competition in the form of birds of prey. I sometimes wonder why in such wonderful countryside that there seems to be a lack of small songsters, but travel half a mile and count the number of predatory birds you see and you may have part of the reason why.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks Aya! I thought the video but soothing and uplifting.

      Don't know about that particular figurative expression. Also often hear "as happy as a lark" too. Some come from authors and poets, and that could be the origin. For instance, Tennyson referred to the lark as the "sightless song" which is true as they sing on the wing and are so small you often hear them but don't see them.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Jerilee, I enjoyed the hub, and especially like the video "Sound of Nature-- Nightingale."

      Why do we have the expression "free as a lark"? Are larks more free than others?

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks Peter Dickinson!

    • Peter Dickinson profile image

      Peter Dickinson 

      9 years ago from South East Asia

      You conjured up some memories. Thank you.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks Teresa McGurk! I certainly agree and have been thinking maybe we have to actively seek the simpler and finer joys and gifts that are all for the taking, if only we choose.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 

      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Every time I go home to Ireland I am enchanted by the birdsong. Thanks for this lovely hub. We should indeed be looking (and listening) for all the joy bringers in this world, instead of concentrating -- as so many people do -- on negativity and blight.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks atikamom!

      Thanks rb11! Sometimes i think we have to stop and really seek the sounds that are hidden in our modern day backgrounds.

      Thanks Niche's Niche! Despite all our urban sounds here (the highway, trains, traffic, etc.) we still have a good bit of crickets, frogs, etc. to hear each day.

      Thanks Joy At Home! Mourning doves are a daily sight here, so we still enjoy them. One of the reasons I included the Nightingale video and links was that I thought many of us would welcome hearing what we've only imagined.

    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 

      9 years ago from United States

      The Western meadowlark has been my favorite singing bird since I was a child...though I appreciated the mourning doves too. Nothing says spring like a meadowlark, after months and months of snow.

      I always wondered what a Nightingale sounded like, ever since I read the fairytale about the emperor and the nightingale...now I know.

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 

      9 years ago

      I so enjoy the music of birds. When I was younger and lived in Colorado, I fell asleep to the sound of crickets and woke to the music of birds...

    • rb11 profile image

      rb11 

      9 years ago from Las Vegas

      We were just mentioning the other day how noisy the city has become with louder cars and boom box car radios, How peaceful it is to hear the sounds of nature with even a running stream is nice.

      Regards

    • profile image

      atikamon 

      9 years ago from LONDON, UK

      this a very good hub, i like natuer and i love birbs

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks Hawkesdream! I enjoyed the Nightingale video myself.

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 

      9 years ago from Cornwall

      enjoy learning about the birds, this is great and the videos compliment, just perfectly.

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