Don’t let music define you especially if you’re a studied conservationist like Dominik Eulberg. He might be best known for his music to Attack readers but he has several feathers in his cap as his other main interest is ornithology and wildlife protection. To support his new album, we asked him to tell us about his favourite birds...
What to do when you’re fed up with the studio? How about getting at one with nature?
In what is a more curious Show & Tell than the typical feature, Dominik Eulberg surprises us with his deep interest in birds. Looking for a new hobby? Perhaps this might get you inspired. And if it doesn’t there’s definitely a tonne of interesting and organic sounds that could easily be sampled into a track. Get to know the other side of Dominik Eulberg.
In this video, the corncrake starts its call at 0:25. Wait for it!
Corncrakes have a very characteristic mating call, reminiscent of rattling a comb with a fingernail. Mostly at night, the extremely loud, creaking “crex crex” of the males can be heard up to a kilometre away.
The bird owes its onomatopoeic scientific name to this mating call. The corncrake prefers to live in wet, extensively farmed meadows. Due to the draining of former wetlands, early mowing and the use of pesticides have led to a dramatic decline in its population.
Its German name means as much as “quail king”. However, like the coot, the corncrake belongs to the rail family and is not closely related to the quail at all. Its misleading name originates from the fact that it was once believed to be the leader of the quails.
This is because it prefers a similar habitat as quails and was often caught together with them during hunting. Despite being no closer relative, it resembles them externally but is much larger and rarer. Thus, it was thought to be the king of the quails.
The nightjar is a very strange animal.
The sounds that the nocturnal bird makes sound really crazy. On the one hand, there is this several minutes long “purr” that could also come from a synthesiser or a distant moped. On the other hand, there is a popping sound that he produces through fast, whipping movements of the wingtips.
His German name means something like “goat milker”. Its bizarre appearance, with its huge mouth and narrowed eyes during the day, led people as far back as Roman times to suspect that it sucked on the udders of goats in the barn at night. In reality, however, it is only the insects attracted by the cattle that drive it there.
With their resonant “sirih sirih” calls, swifts spread that wonderful summer feeling in our cities. These so-called “screaming parties” are social flight games that serve to synchronise the colony. At top speeds of up to over two hundred kilometres per hour, the troops chase each other through the canyons of buildings.
The swift is a true aeronaut, except for when breeding, it is permanently in the air. There it feeds, drinks and sleeps, and even mates by flying. In its twenty-year-long lifetime, it covers an incredible four million kilometres. That is roughly ten times the distance between the earth and the moon.
Despite its outward resemblance, the swift is not related to swallows but is closest to the hummingbird. The swift’s body is so adapted to life in the air that it only has very small feet to hold on to the nest. In the past, it was assumed that it had no feet at all, as they are completely enclosed in the plumage during its flight in order to optimise the aerodynamic shape. Hence its scientific name Apus apus: Apus comes from the Greek and means “without feet”.
For their young, a breeding pair of swifts easily capture 20,000 insects and spiders a day during their rapid hunts. If the parents do not find enough food due to periods of bad weather or if they flee from low-pressure areas rich-in-rain and poor in food, the young birds fall into a hunger torpor: heartbeat and breathing slow down and the body temperature drops from 39°C to as low as 20°C. In this way, the nestlings can survive for up to two weeks.
Great spotted woodpecker
Drumming is to woodpeckers what singing is to songbirds, it is used to mark territories and to find a mating partner. A drum roll of a great spotted woodpecker usually consists of 10 – 15 beats and lasts half a second to a second. A
busy great spotted woodpecker hammers up to 12,000 times a day on resonant branches or other nice-sounding surfaces as shown here in the video. And it does so without getting a headache because its brain is well padded by thick tissue and a joint-like connection between its beak and skull cushions the impact.
Unbelievable but true – its long tongue is wrapped around the brain and acts like a seat belt. Sturdy tail feathers support it during its climbs and it can fold back one toe, the zygodactylous toe, for extra support.
The great spotted woodpecker hacks insect larvae out of rotten wood and collects them with its long tongue. In winter, unlike all other woodpeckers, it feeds mainly on conifer seeds. For this purpose, it builds so-called forges: In chiselled hollows, it clamps the cones according to their size in order to pick out the seeds better – a feat that requires a high degree of intelligence and learning ability.
I love the song of the nightingales, when the males resound loudly at night, shining like a bright star on a clear night, attracting the females “from the sky” with their beguiling song. No other bird species has influenced more art and culture makers.
Everyone knows the line “it was the nightingale and not the lark” from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Many famous composers have been inspired by the master singer and have imitated its song: Ludwig van Beethoven, for example, in his 6th Symphony, or Johann Strauss in the “Nightingale Polka”.
I love its melancholic crescendo, a series of stretched, soft whistling notes with a wistful character, perceived as plaintive or sobbing. Songbirds have been around for more than 30 million years. The song of birds can be called music with a clear conscience because of its repetitive structures. A nightingale for instance can sing up to 300 different verses. I find it fascinating to imagine that the air on this planet was full of music long before humans were even thought of.
Homo sapiens have only been around for about 230,000 years. I am amazed by the organic way birds string sounds together. You could hardly play such sequences with your fingers on the piano. The writer David Haskell described the process so beautifully: “Birds are quick-fingered goldsmiths of the air, crafting dozens of ornamental gems every second. In their modulations of pitch, amplitude and timbre we hear the vitality of their blood, muscles and nerves.”
With its colourful and iridescent plumage, the kingfisher is truly a “flying gem”, one of our most attractive bird species and one of my favourites. It seems like a mythical creature that doesn’t belong in this world at all and puts me in deepest delight every time. With its wings folded, it plunges headlong from perches into clear waters in a flash to catch small fish. Thanks to its water-repellent plumage and dagger-shaped bill, it is perfectly equipped for such diving hunts.
The kingfisher digs a breeding burrow of up to one metre deep in steep walls. After feeding, each young bird moves one place back in the circle. This “feeding carousel” ensures a fair distribution of the fish. Kingfishers perform 2-3 nest broods per year: The female is already busy breeding again, while the male is still looking after the freshly fledged young birds. In this way they compensate for bitter losses during the winter months: When streams freeze over during the cold season, more than 90 percent of all kingfishers can starve to death.
The lapwing owes its German name Kiebitz to its loud and surreal sounding “kaiju wit” calls, which sound more like a toy than a bird. Its scientific name Vanellus means “little fan”, named after its fan-shaped wings with which it performs artistic courtship flights.
Because of its swaying flying style, the lapwing is also called the “juggler of the air”. Depending on the incidence of light, its plumage shines in a magnificent green or violet-metallic colour.
The lapwing breeds on the ground. Its eggs are greenish-brown and speckled so that they can hardly be distinguished from the ground. If a predator nevertheless approaches its nest, the lapwing feigns injury by drooping one wing, thus luring the attacker away from the nest as supposedly easy prey. This is where its English name “lapwing” comes from.
Hardly any other native bird species have suffered such high losses due to human intervention as the lapwing: since the 1980s, its population in Germany has fallen by 93 per cent! The main reason for this is intensive agriculture, in which more and more wet meadows have been drained and converted into arable land. High-yield farming with frequent mowing up to five or six times a year, which is not adapted to the needs of meadow-nesting birds, is also causing the lapwing’s (over)life to become difficult.
Twice a year I stand spellbound by the lake outside my front door and watch with my mouth wide open “when the sky is on fire”. When thousands of cranes pass by in aerodynamic wedge formation and fill the air with their trumpet-like calls. When they rest here to spend the night. There is hardly a natural experience in our latitudes that has such power and, for me personally, such meaning. This mass, this elegance, this soundscape! You have to be pretty hardened not to feel here what really matters in life.
These brief moments of deep, intrinsic happiness are like flashes of truth for me. The veil of our “higher-faster-buy-yourself-happy” system lifts briefly, the poison no longer works. We can still learn so much from our grand master nature, our mother, our homeland. More than is written in all the books of this world together.
Dominik Eulberg’s ‘Avichrom’ is out now on !K7 records. Follow him on Instagram.
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