Photographs by Yoshinori Mizutani  The Songs of Wild Birds That Gather in Ueno

Photographer Yoshinori Mizutani has been attracting attention both in Japan and abroad for his photos, which capture the birds and nature within the city from a unique perspective. This collection of his work shows birds living on the water and in the forests of Ueno, while an ornithologist from National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, offers an insight into all their different calls.

By Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

Brown-eared bulbulUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The songs of birds flying between the trees

About 50 kinds of birds appear around the hills of Ueno and Shinobazu Pond. The trees and water provide food, while other animals that fear humans scarcely visit, making this a haven for birds. The species of these visitors varies from season to season, as do their calls. Often seen around Ueno Park while the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the brown-eared bulbuls have a loud and noisy impressive song, which goes "heeyo, heeyo, heeeeyo."

The sounds that birds make include both everyday calls and the songs that males sing during the breeding season. For the warbling white-eye, the everyday call is "chii chii," while the male's song goes "chuichui chochopiichui" Throughout the breeding season, you might also hear the adorable tweets of various chicks. 

StarlingsUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A pair of gray starlings on top of a nesting burrow. Their call is "gyuru, gyuru."

Tufted ducksUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The songs of birds gathering around Shinobazu Pond

Shinobazu Pond is more lively in winter. From winter to spring, one of the most common birds is the black-headed gull, which cries out "gii, gii." It is rare to see these birds inland like they are here in Ueno, but the reason they often come here during winter is probably because the pond is so large. The tufted duck is another bird that can usually be found on the Shinobazu Pond during winter. It doesn't call out very often, but when it does, it softly says "gue-gue." Other birds that come to Ueno for overwintering include the Eurasian wigeon that whistles "phewoo," and the mallard that says "quack." The call of the kingfisher, which is often found near the water, is "chee chee,” while a higher pitched "queck-queck" would probably be a dusky thrush. 

Great Egret in Shinobazu PondUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The great egret, a regular visitor at Shinobazu Pond, sometimes calls out a low-pitched, "gowak, guwak," But actually, it’s the sound of water splashing around as it digs its beak into the shallows looking for fish to eat that’s much more impressive. 

Great egret in the Ueno central parkUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Great egrets from Shinobazu Pond occasionally wander over towards the park's fountain. 

A large-billed crowUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The songs of common birds resting in Ueno

Familiar city birds like crows, pigeons and sparrows are also regular visitors in Ueno Park. The large-billed crow, which clearly cries out "kaaw, kaaw," is often found in the urban areas of Japan, and comes to the hills of Ueno for a rest. There are actually very few of this species in the world, and it's rare to find such a large number in urban areas. Then there are the naturalized rock pigeons. These birds once swept across the Ueno area, and although their number has decreased since feeding was banned, they are still going strong with the sound of their cooing. The tree sparrows, which make adorable "chun chun" sounds, also have a strong presence. As well as being seen around the park itself, they can sometimes be found dust bathingat the base of the trees near Ueno Station.

Rock pigeons in the Ueno central parkUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The pigeon's call is "coo-coo," which changes to a rolling "crrooh-coo" when a male is courting a female. 

SparrowsUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Sparrows communicate by calling out, "chun, chun." 

A great cormorantUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The various sounds of the birds bring the water and forests of Ueno to life

The sound of a bird's presence is not just limited to their calls and songs. A group of great cormorants lives on Shinobazu Pond, and flying down low, they both look and sound impressive as they move fast against the wind with their wings flapping. These birds have built a nest in a low tree over on Nakanoshima Island, which sits in the middle of Shinobazu Pond and is also home to the Benten Shrine. Their chicks can be heard crying out, "kyururu, kyururu." The existence of these birds and the various sounds they make is an inextricable part of Ueno.

TealUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A female Eurasian teal eating plankton in Shinobazu Pond. Her call is "queck-queck."

Photographer Yoshinori MizutaniUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Credits: Story

Courtesy of Implementation Committee for New Concept "Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture” (Ueno Cultural Park) 

Yoshinori Mizutani 
Born in Fukui prefecture in 1987, Mizutani now lives in Tokyo. After graduating from the Nihon University College of Economics, he studied at the Tokyo College of Photography. Winner of the Japan Photo Award in 2013 and Foam Magazine’s 2014 Talent Call. Along with four solo exhibitions at the IMA gallery, Mizutani has held solo exhibitions all over the world, including London (Webber Gallery), Zurich (Christophe Guye Galerie), Antwerp (Ibasho Gallery), Beijing (Aura Gallery), Milan (mc2gallery), and Paris (House of Culture of Japan in Paris). Author of Tokyo Parrots (2014), Colors (2015), Yusurika (2015), Hanon (2016) and HDR_nature (2018), all published by IMA photobooks. His most recent book, SAKURA, was published in spring 2021.

Interview in cooperation with: Isao Nishiumi, Senior Curator of the Zoological
Department at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo

Words: Itoko Suzuki

Shooting & Editing: Daikichi Kawazumi, Tatsuki Wakamiya
Production: Hechikan Co., Ltd.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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