THE GOSSIPER BIRD ("TELL-TALE", "BABBLER")

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOUR - DIET - MATING - USAGES - MYTH/LORE

The Gossiper is a medium-sized forest bird of green plumage, whose large orange beak protrudes like a broad, slightly curved and pointed dagger from its small head. Its name derives from the peculiar way in which it constructs its mating song. The way for the female to attract a male is to make up a composition from selected imitations of other creature’s voices. In many cases, a female Gossiper’s song will be composed of the chirpings of other types of bird, the snorts of wild hogs, and the playful yelping of young foxes – whatever the particular Gossiper has heard recently, and whatever she judges to be particularly attractive to a male.

In forests that are frequented by humans, however, the Gossiper’s song becomes more bizarre, as it uses its baffling ability to mimic human voices. Many a woodchopper was moved to lay down his axe and run into a thicket in search of the owner of a mellifluous singing voice – only to find that it was not a fair maiden, but a Gossiper for whom he tore his breeches in the brambles. And many a fair maiden has fled in panic from what she believed to be a lecherous woodchopper with an extensive vocabulary of swearwords. May the gentle reader note that only female Gossipers sing in this way; as far as we know, the males rarely make any noise at all.

The Gossiper Bird

View picture in full size Picture description. A Gossiper Bird of the R'unorian variety. Image drawn by Seeker.

There are two variants of Gossiper, which are distinguishable by the colour of a stripe on their otherwise sognastheen green head plumage: a Sarvonian species (korwyn gold stripe), and a R’unorian one (aeruillin red stripe). The Gossiper is also known by the following names: "Tell-tale", "Impostor Bird". "Lurebird", "Charlatan Daggerbeak", "Mute Daggerbeak", "Babbler", "Babbling Foreigner". The Injerin Elves of the Shaded Forest call this bird mel'vévan ("Deceitful Bird"), in Nybelmarian Styrásh, it is known as the soór'vévan ("Talking Bird"). The Gossiper bears no relation to the psitta, or chatterbird.

Appearance. A wanderer through the Shaded Forest, or the forests of R’unor, may see the Gossiper sitting perfectly still on a tree branch, often at about a height of 2-4 peds, looking inquisitively at the passer-by with one eye, while its head is turned to one side. The Gossiper is not easily perturbed, and it is possible to approach and observe it more closely.

If you do that, you will see that the Gossiper has a stocky body of about one fore in length from the top of the head to the end of the longest tail feather. The plumage is sognastheen green throughout, except for a thin streak of
aeruillin red (in the R’unorian variety) or korwyn gold (in the Shaded Forest) that reaches backwards from the eyes to the neck on both sides of the head. The belly feathers are short and typically slightly ruffled, giving the Gossiper a somewhat ragged appearance.

Its beak is the Gossiper’s most prominent feature, being bright sor’inyt orange and rather large for its body-size. This beak is about one palmspan in length and resembles a broad dagger that curves gently downward before ending in a sharp, slightly upward-bending point.

The Gossiper maintains its perch with the help of four strong claws on each foot – three claws pointing forward, and one, the spur claw, pointing backward. These give the foot a good grip on the branch. The bird’s short legs are covered by a cinnabrown, wrinkly skin. They are not fit for other than an ungainly gait, were the Gossiper ever to find itself on the ground, which is a rare occurrence. Usually, the bird moves along sideways on a branch with slow, deliberate steps – unless, of course, it is spreading its wings to fly and change branches.

Male and female look exactly the same. The way to distinguish them is by their behaviour, and particularly by their song (see below). Return to the top

Special Abilities. Both male and female Gossipers have a supreme sense of hearing. In addition, the females distinguish themselves from the males, and indeed from all other known types of bird, by their ability to mimic the voices of almost all beings that inhabit its forest, as well as other noises of its habitat. A female Gossiper may tweet, croak or cry in the manner of any other bird in its forest; it may also hiss like a snake, creak like an old tree in the wind, and stir panic among its kuatu neighbours by faithfully reproducing their warning whistles. The Gossiper’s impersonations are so close to their originals that they fool even the impersonated: when the Gossiper howls, the wolves of the forest may well join in, thinking that one of their kind has started the music.

Most uncannily, the female Gossiper is also able to mimic the language of intelligent beings: it may repeat single words, short phrases or even whole conversations that it has overheard. In doing so, it imitates individual voices so convincingly that a listener could easily distinguish different interlocutors of a dialogue.

The male Gossiper, in contrast, hardly ever emits any noise at all, but appears to sit stoically and munch beetles most of its lifetime. The mistaken belief, held in Vermoth province near the Shaded Forest, that the ‘gossiping’ and the ‘silent’ bird are two different species, has given rise to the Gossiper’s Mynian names “Charlatan Daggerbeak” and “Mute Daggerbeak”.
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Territory. As indicated above, there are in fact two varieties of Gossiper. The aeruillin red-streaked species lives in the Forest of Souls and other woods of the R’unorian islands. There this bird is known by the names of "Gossiper", "Tell-tale", and "Impostor Bird". The kind with the korwyn gold streak resides solely in the Shaded Forest (in the southern part of Northern Sarvonia, on the edge of the Mynian Kingdom). The humans living in proximity to this forest call this bird the "Lurebird", "Charlatan Daggerbeak", or "Mute Daggerbeak".

Both Gossiper species migrate in the late autumn to spend the winter in the warmer climate of continental Nybelmar. They leave their summer quarters late in the month of Passing Clouds, and return early in the month of Awakening Winds. Should you ever see a gold-streaked Gossiper in R’unor, or indeed any Gossiper on the Crimson Isles, you can tell that it must be late autumn, or else that spring is not far: for the bird you see is almost certainly just having a rest on its twice-yearly journey, either going to Nybelmar, or coming from there.

Female Gossipers seem to use the winter mostly for practicing the sounds they picked up in their summer quarters, and rarely work noises from continental Nybelmar into their repertoires. As their songs appear outlandish in their winter quarters’ soundscape, the Gossipers are known here as the Babblers, or the Babbling Foreigners.

Although rarely caught, female Gossipers have been known to survive in captivity. As they derive stimulation from the sounds around them, they don’t need much to keep them happy except small insects to feed on, and water. Male Gossipers, on the other hand, have invariably died in their cages. Deprived of the chance to build a nest in preparation for the mating season, they appear to have perished of despondency. In any case, a male Gossiper would be a disappointingly taciturn cage bird, albeit a picturesque one. A female, on the other hand, would certainly entertain her owners – and quite possibly exasperate them.
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Habitat/Behaviour. If you heard a female Gossiper without seeing her, you might not know it, but would rather think you were listening to whatever animal or intelligent being the Gossiper was imitating at the time. If you stayed around and listened more closely, however, you may be able to tell, by the quick succession of different creatures’ voices coming from the same place, that things are not what they appear to be. How would it be possible that a hog is snorting contentedly while a bear is audibly belching in the vicinity? How would the shy fox tolerate the proximity of a company of drunken hunters, and even give itself away by its yelps? Such are the signs to listen out for if you want to catch sight of a singing Gossiper.

For it is not easy to do so. The female Gossiper spends much of her day listening to the noises around her, and if she notices the presence of humans or other two-legged passers-by, she may be inclined to keep still – just in case these intriguing strangers may emit some noises useful to her in her song.

Once she has absorbed a sufficient number of voices and fragments suitable for her composition, the female Gossiper will start singing. Researchers believe that her daily song is in essence a preparation for her all-important performance in the mating season (see below). It is possible that she needs the daily practice to memorize the wide variety of noises that will eventually make up her mating song.

As described above, the Gossiper’s song may consist entirely of forest noises – including the odd snippet picked up during the winter stay in continental Nybelmar – or may incorporate the unique voices of individual humans, depending on the specific environment of the individual. A particularly bizarre – and dramatic! – Gossiper’s song was recorded by Shabakuk Zeborius Anfang in the Shaded Forest. This forest was regularly frequented by humans from Vermoth, and had recently been the site of a devious murder. The song is recorded to have run as follows:

“Culoo, culoo! Lay the damn axe down, Rugfur. Oh, the sun is so bright today. Woof, woof! [Then an old hag singing:] Where is my lovely, where is my lovely, where is my lovely, oh won’t you say? Over the mountain, over the mountain, over the mountain, she’s flown away. Tchirileep, Tchirileep. [Kissing noises, then a young male voice:] Not here, Esmeralda, what if someone’s coming? [Female voice:] Come on, you frightened fuzzle, don’t be so coy. What have you got opposable thumbs for if not to unbutton that button? [Giggling from the male voice, then the sound of an axe hacking into a tree:] Thud! [Then the old hag again:] Whence is she flying, whence is she flying, whence is she flying, my little dove? Into the temple, into the temple, into the temple to wed her new love. Ahwoooooo! [Whispering male voice:] You sneak right, I left. When he sees you and turns, I jump on his back and cut his pretty throat. Culoo, culoo! [Singing again, a child’s voice:] Have you ever put a Brownie in your soup? Have you ever heard him cry and wail and poop? You should try his little toes, Nell! Don’t forget to chew the nose well! Have you ever put a Brownie in your soup? Aargh! [the last being a gurgling cry, as of someone who is having his throat cut] Tchirileep, Tchirileep!”

The Gossiper that performed this extraordinary collage was caught, and later repeated more or less the same song, on which occasion it was recorded. Among the judges of Vermoth there was some debate on whether the captured bird could be summoned as a witness in court – namely in the trial against two men who were suspected of having committed the said murder. The persecution alleged that one of the suspects’ voices sounded rather similar to the frightful whispering towards the end of the Gossiper's song recorded here. However, the trial never took place, because a violent mob of citizens, convinced by the avian evidence, stormed the prison where the two suspects were held, and killed them. Return to the top

Diet. Its magnificent beak enables the Gossiper to dig out, pierce and devour the small creatures that hide within and underneath the bark of trees, such as quillý’efér and their eggs, caterpillars of the lu’an moth or the red diamond butterfly, as well as myrmex and luck bug grubs. Gossipers are not particularly nimble in flight, and rarely catch insects in the air, but they may snatch up a stray groshmite or, in Nybelmar, a needlefly. Neither is it beyond them to peck at travelling orms or even the odd young woolly cob. Occasionally, Gossipers will also eat fruit or berries, such as meldarapples or vinterberries.
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Mating. In early spring the female Gossipers look for a mate. They will perch on a prominent high branch and begin their performance, composed out of the sounds they have collected over the past year. The more varied and beautiful the concert, the greater the number of males that will be attracted by it, and thus the larger the pool of suitors from which the female may take her pick. The criteria for her choice are not known. The interested males gather around her on branches of the same tree, and the female simply flies toward one of the males and takes a seat next to him. After a brief interlude of billing and cooing, the pair fly off to the nest that the male prepared while his new mate was practicing her song. They will produce between six and eight eggs, and feed their young until they are able to fly. In the late summer, the couple separate, and the cycle begins again.
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Usages. Gossipers are feared by many simple folk as malicious intelligent beings, as spies, or as simply too truthful to have around. Nonetheless, Gossipers are sometimes caught and put to a variety of uses. The mimicking ability of the female Gossiper has inspired a number of attempts to harness it for human purposes – not necessarily honourable ones, we might add. However, the employment of Gossipers as spies, messengers, or fake magical attractions has proved tricky. There are two reasons for this: Firstly, people have found it difficult to make the Gossiper repeat exactly those sounds they want it to repeat. Thus, the use of the birds as messengers failed because instead of the clearly spoken message, the birds decided instead to make a song out of a creaking door, or the laugh of a child. Secondly, even if the bird has included a given message into its repertoire, attempts to make the bird repeat exactly the desired piece of information at the desired time have proved elusive. It is simply not predictable what parts of her repertoire the female Gossiper chooses to practice at a given moment.

However, your chronicler has heard of the following, albeit isolated cases where people have made use of the Gossiper’s abilities. One case was a hermit who lived in a cave, isolated from all human abode, and owned a female Gossiper for companionship, or a substitute thereof. This Gossiper was known to perch in her cage in front of her master’s abode, and to greet every visitor from afar with the cry: “Hey, here’s someone who’s got the nose of a blackhog and the behind of a baneg! Hide the Artwine and get the svaq out, your inebriate grandmother is coming.” This hermit was rather successful in preserving the solitude he preferred.

We have also heard of an innkeeper in Marcogg, who had acquired a female Gossiper from a travelling merchant, and who kept her in his tavern during the evening, when it was busiest. The bird cage was placed in the middle of the room, so that the bird could hear talk that was intended solely for the ears of the patrons sitting around a particular table. Given the plentiful supply of interesting noises, the Gossiper would remain quiet while in the tavern. Most guests were ignorant about the Gossiper’s abilities and did not suspect that the purpose of the exotic dagger-beaked bird was any other than ornamental. After the tavern was closed, the innkeeper would take his Gossiper to his private chambers and listen to her song of the day, which was usually made up out of snippets from the conversation of his guests. It was said that the innkeeper had a reputation for being a fine judge of his fellow citizens’ character.
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Myth/Lore. Superstition has it that Gossipers are intelligent beings and use language like humans do. We have heard simple folk express the belief that Gossipers mock humans by repeating their foolish talk back to them, or that they hide among the foliage trying to overhear a person’s secrets, in order to then blurt them out at a moment most opportune to the Gossiper, and most inopportune to the person in question. There are even tales that Gossipers are spies sent out by forest spirits to learn the intentions of men and women. The most far-fetched of the many legends about the Gossiper, however, must surely be that Gossipers are immortal, that they know all tongues, including those not spoken anywhere by humans anymore, and that their songs record the voices and sayings of heroes and heroines who have long since died and have themselves entered the misty realm of myth. Folk beliefs notwithstanding, all respectable researchers agree that the female Gossiper understands as little of human conversation as any other animal, but that she is attracted by the complexity and variedness of human language, because they make for what she judges to be catching melodies.
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 Date of last edit 22nd Molten Ice 1669 a.S.

Information provided by Shabakuk Zeborius Anfang View Profile