For the Birds Radio Program: Romeo and Juliet

Original Air Date: Nov. 9, 1988

Recast from 7-28-1986 (3:35) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Nightingale)

Did you know that Romeo and Juliet were birdwatchers? It’s true. They had only one quarrel in their brief, star-crossed affair, and, sure enough, it was a dispute over the identification of a bird.

(Recording from Romeo and Juliet soundtrack)

You won’t find a Nightingale here in the Northland–it’s strictly an Old World species. The closest we have are our robins, bluebirds, and thrushes, which are in the same family. In spite of its beautiful song, which has inspired poets and writers for centuries, the nightingale is a drab bird–with its spotted breast, it looks like a baby robin. And, like a robin, bugs and berries are the fuel which energizes its song:

(Recording of a Nightingale)

How about the lark? Our meadowlarks are no relation–just to confuse the issue, ornithologists place meadowlarks in the blackbird family, along with the European Robin, which, to further muddle the matter, is not at all related to the American Robin. We do get a real lark here–the Horned Lark, but that isn’t the lark that was singing outside Juliet’s bedroom. The lark most often mentioned in literature, Shelley’s “blithe spirit,” is the Skylark, known for its exuberant habit of singing on the wing.

(Recording of a Skylark)

Skylarks were introduced to North America in several places by Shakespeare lovers and homesick European immigrants, but the only place where they became established is Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Skylarks are found only in open fields and pastures–since the Capulet’s property had orchard walls, their lark may actually have been a Woodlark–another ground-nesting lark found throughout northern Europe.

(Recording of the Woodlark)

Until a Shakespearean scholar with an ornithological bent tackles this problem, the truth may never be known.

This is Laura Erickson, who chose this topic for a lark, and this program has been “For the Birds.”