More Spice Finch song from Hidalgo

Recording of Hidalgo Solo – Spice Finch Song

Recording of Hidalgo and Mozart K 330

While trying to boil down excerpts of Hidalgo’s song, Hidalgo being my once-upon-a-time loud, if there is such a thing, singing Spice Finch a/k/a Scaly-Breasted Munia or Nutmeg Mannikin, two of the current Spice Finches were messing around on the floor outside the door of the room where I’ve got the tape to MP3 operation happening. It’s unusual behavior for them to be on the floor, period, so I can only imagine that as faint as the sound was coming through my headphones, they heard a distant Spice Finch calling or singing somewhere and were determined to find this bird. I have never played back a recording of the birds to themselves because it seems like a dirty trick; I don’t want them to get confused, or worse yet, maybe go through the same horror that strikes us humans: “I don’t sound like that!” Or get hip to the idea that I’m recording them and shut up altogether. Although sometimes I get the opposite vibe from them, that they like to show off, and as soon as I turn on the tape recorder they start vocalizing.

I’ve attached two recordings. One is of Hidalgo pretty much solo singing his entire song a couple times, so you can get the gist of it. There is a zebra finch who comes in, and then a budgie flies by, but if you listen carefully you can hear the song with the little “mwa, mwa” refrain at the end. This might be the only audible recording of a Spice Finch singing on the Internet. And then the second recording has him singing in key, of course, along with the Mozart Piano Sonata in C Major, K 330, such as I was practicing it that day. He seemed to like the second half of the Allegro and he sings pretty much (along with a couple zebra finches) in the Andante Cantabile.

A Spice Finch, possibly Hidalgo

Baby birds beg in key with music

Little's parents allopreening, or maybe how it all started...

Recording of “Little” begging in key with Mozart

Before hatchlings, nestlings and fledglings start talking (calling) or singing (generally, if they’re males), their only vocalization is to beg for food. This starts immediately upon hatching as a faint whimper, but builds to crescendos as the bird grows.

Attached is a brief recording of the only Spice Finch child produced in my house, begging for food. I named her “Little,” not knowing whether she would turn out to be a boy or a girl. Those strong little musical “peeps” you hear belonged to Little. As for the Mozart, I was trying to learn the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, the one with the Elvira Madigan theme for the adagio, after hearing Stephen Hough play it so wonderfully with the Chicago Symphony. I didn’t have an orchestra to play with, unfortunately, only a recording of a nameless orchestra that was at its own tempo and, because I could not hear the canned orchestra over the piano unless I drowned out the birds, I gave up eventually. If I ever attempt this again, I will have to write my own cadenzas because the ones that come with the sheet music are dreadful, sounding more like Schumann than Mozart.

Long before she fledged, Little fell out of the nest onto the floor. I picked her up and put her back, urging her parents to feed her. At that time she was no more than pencil eraser. I don’t know what made her parents listen to me but they continued to feed her and she fledged, however awkwardly.

Parent with Little

Although I decided somewhere along the line that she was female, she didn’t live long enough for me to really find out. It wasn’t until she stopped begging and started getting around on her own that I realized she was physically impaired. She was missing her right foot, so whenever she landed it was difficult for her to sit without leaning over. It occurred to me this might have been why her parents kicked her out of the nest. They begrudgingly took over parenting of Little and she lived longer, perhaps, than she should have. But I think what did her in was her inability to fit in with all the adults. If she’d had siblings she might have had a better life, at least for a while, but I think she died of a broken heart. Once her parents stopped feeding her, they ignored her totally.

Little, first fledged

Hidalgo and Spice-Finch Song

Recording of Hidalgo with Mozart

Spice Finch is the common caged-bird-trade name for lonchura punctulata, better known in the field by their ornithological common names of Scaly-Breasted Munia or Nutmeg Mannikin. When I went to find my two original zebra finches, I fell in love with two of these dark brown beauties sharing cage space in the pet shop and decided I had to have them too. They were to be named Hidalgo and Sofia. Only Sofia turned out to be Sam. The sexes are virtually identical and perhaps the best way to tell them apart is to observe them for a while for behavioral cues. The males tend to sing, although not necessarily in the pet shop. Still, that should be simple enough to tell the boys from the girls.

Scaly-Breasted Munias

Three Spice Finches

But therein lies part of the problem: Spice Finch song is practically inaudible. Their call notes are distinct and easily heard above the fray, but the song is definitely not intended to be broadcast all over the neighborhood. When I did finally manage to get a couple of females for these guys, I observed song etiquette first-hand. You can see a spice finch singing easier than you can hear him. The singing male will often get right next to his intended and start singing sweetly, a rendition of his song intended just for her ears. Sometimes another male wants to hear him so he gets on the other side of the singer and leans in to listen. No countersinging going on here.

By Spice Finch standards, then, I guess Hidalgo was a loud mouth, because he was frequently pretty audible. This was way back before I had a huge flock. At the time of this recording, Hidalgo’s competition for airspace came down to one somewhat sickly male budgie and a couple zebra finches. And Sam, who didn’t sing all that much.

The recording attached to the link is in three parts. I was apparently really butchering a Mozart sonata in B-flat on this particular day, but the repetitive practicing in the first movement triggered some urge in Hidalgo to sing along a few times. That’s the first clip, and then there’s a short version of his entire song which follows the end of the Adagio. The song starts out high, “peepeepeepee” sound that drops down about an octave, goes up and down again, then goes to a clacking sound, trills, and finishes with an almost human sounding “Mwah mwah” in two descending notes. It’s quite an intricate matter. It’s fascinating to watch a Spice Finch sing too, because he moves his upper and lower mandibles constantly as if he’s carving sound in the air, strutting his inaudible stuff. I also found a little bit of Hidalgo as I reached the end of the third movement and tacked that on too, so you can hear him come in.

I will eventually find more recordings of Hidalgo in his element and share them with you. Sadly he became very ill after a year or two, and I have never had another spice finch male equal him musically. When the day comes that I no longer have budgies and zebra finches, I could be tempted to launch my own study of spice finch song.