Over the weekend, J and I went with tym to check out the "Curating Lab: 100 objects" project under the Singapore Art Show. The first object was of a series of blown-up 1960s newspaper clippings from artist John Low's collection. Other than sightings of the "Oily Man", "beast in Serangoon Gardens" and ghosts in cabdrivers' backseats, there was a kind of non-article (if there was ever such a thing as non-news, this would be it) about some kampong residents' alarmed sighting of a "death bird" and its call. From its description, the "death bird" sounded just like the common house crow. Perhaps they were less common in the 60s. If so, maybe it is not too difficult to imagine then how a lone crow could possibly alarm a kampong with its aggressive cawing and its seemingly ominous haunting.

Round about eight in the morning, a bird in the cluster of trees by our block of flats will issue a series of loud echoey calls - "whoooop whooop". A couple of mornings ago, I woke up hearing just that loud call; and drifting in and out of sleep, all that filled those brief in-between moments was the bird's call. A kind of audio-only dream.

How would you describe the calls and songs that birds make? Pigeons coo. Crows caw. Mynahs, those comical birds with their random head shaking and awkward hopping, they make these appropriately untuneful clicks. And hummingbirds hum?

It is hard to forget Murakami's description of the "wind-up bird":
There was a small stand of trees nearby, and from it you could hear the mechanical cry of a bird that sounded as if it were winding a spring. We called it the wind-up bird. Kumiko gave it the name. We didn't know what it was really called or what it looked like, but that didn't bother the wind-up bird. Every day, it would come to the stand of trees in our neighbourhood and wind the spring of our quiet little world."

Then there are the more prosaic but no less curious descriptions in Clive Briffett's A Guide to Common Birds to Singapore (part of this series of pocket-sized books published by the Singapore Science Centre that I am addicted to), such as: issues a monotonous two note whistle "coo-oo" fairly regularly every two seconds and has been likened to a demented hiccupping! (Brown Hawk Owl)
Often calls attention to itself using a raucous call followed by a noise resembling a whinnying horse as it sits on overhead wires (White-throated Kingfisher)
Frequently issues a noisy shriek resembling a saw grinding against metal (Collared Kingfisher)
...listen for the distinctive call of "whats it" or "peepit" issued in flight (Asian Fairy Bluebird)
...has a "chwee chewee" call with an alarm note resembling a "tissyip tissyip" (Richards Pipit)

I've been listening to online recordings of bird sounds for the past hour, hoping to find the name of my morning alarm clock. But until I recognise it, I think it'll just bear the unflattering name: the wake-up bird.

p/s If you want to listen to an actual bird songs in Singapore, there's actually a CD recording Bird Songs of Singapore at the National Library (Lee Kong Chian Reference section.


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