Songs of the brainfever bird

Songs of the brainfever bird

A friend brought to my attention the Xeno Canto collectlon of bird songs, some 67,000 recordings from 7,147 species representing 67.4% of the planet’s birds.

Thanks to Xeno Canto, I’ve been listening again to the song of the brainfever bird, an eerie, disturbing cry which I last heard fifty years ago as a child in the Western Ghats.

A low wolf-whistle is repeated ever more loudly and shrilly as if the bird is working itself up to a paroxysm of terror or rage. It used to frighten us children we when we were fishing in the forest streams. What had the bird seen? Was a panther lurking in the bushes behind us? A python looping from a branch above?

common hawk cuckoo

Mad, completely mad.

These fears were not as ridiculous as they may sound. In 1958, a woodcutter from Bushi village out after a cache of wild honey was killed by a leopard on the same mission.

Then one night my father’s driver Babu, a great hunter, saw two green lamps swaying at head height above a dark forest path. He fired, and a 15 foot python fell to the ground. He brought it back in the boot of the car. I remember the musty stink of it, like a wet dog.

These things, never forgotten, found their way into my novel The Death of Mr Love. The song of the brainfever bird brings them back again.

Brainfever Song I, Recorded by David Farrow in Kosi Tappu, Nepal on March 28, 2001


Brainfever Song II, recorded by Vladimir Arkhipov in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, on March 13, 2005.


Brainfever Song III recorded by Fernand Deroussen in Uttar Kalamati, Jalpaiguri, West Bengal on April 20, 2003


Common Hawk Cuckoo, Hierococcyx varius, recordings and  data courtesy Xeno Canto,


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