Tweeting Adele: Himalayan thrush sounds like singer

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

She’s one of the world’s most successful artists, atop the pop charts and hailed at the Grammys, where she will be performing Monday.

The Himalayan forest thrush.

Now British songstress Adele is being heard even in the Himalayas, where an international team of researchers has likened the song of a new bird species to Adele’s sound.

Michigan State University professor Pamela Rasmussen was among the team that has described the new species, the Himalayan forest thrush, in the journal Avian Research.

Long considered to be part of the plain-backed thrush species, the Himalayan forest thrush emerged when researchers in a contested region between India and China heard two different songs by birds they thought were the same species, Rasmussen said.

One of the birds was living and breeding in the forest, while the other was in the alpine. To avoid confusing species, they named the other the Alpine thrush.

“The Himalayan forest thrush has a musical, slow, rich song of long, clear notes and short thin ones and a lot of variation in pitch,” Rasmussen said.

“The Alpine thrush gives a variety of scratchy, raspy and squeaky notes instead of sweet whistled notes.”

Her co-author, Wildlife Conservation Society associate Shashank Dalvi, reached for contemporary music to describe the bird’s different songs.

“To an ornithologist, the Himalayan forest thrush sounds like Adele, while the alpine thrush sounds more like Rod Stewart,” Dalvi said.

The new bird species was defined in stages. It came to the attention of Per Alstrom, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, while he was in the Himalayas in 2009 and heard distinctly different songs coming from birds he thought belonged to the same species.

He needed help, so he sought Rasmussen, who has described 10 other new bird species, making her one of the most renowned ornithologists in the world. Only two others have discovered more bird species than she has.

Michigan State University professor Pamela Rasmussen was among the team that described the Himalayan forest thrush.

Rasmussen did her morphological work in 2013 at Britain’s Natural History Museum — home to one of the largest collections of bird specimens in the world — where she examined the species’ feathers and structures. There, she discovered some plain-backed thrushes had long bills, while others had short bills. Those with shorter bills were greener, while those with longer bills were more ruddy.

“No one had ever noticed this before,” said Rasmussen, who had created the Avian Vocalizations Center, a global database of downloadable sounds of birds in their habitats. “There were other differences, too. But within an hour, I was pretty sure I could see how they differed.”

It took a while to compile the data to describe the differences, but when the team did, they gave the species a new name: the Himalayan forest thrush.

Rasmussen is more a fan of David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix and doesn’t listen much to Adele’s music. But she agreed the Himalayan forest thrush has a sweet, melodic sound like the songbird Adele.