A 130-year-old old bird-call machine

December 2, 2020 • 2:30 pm

There’s an article on this 130-year-old device at bOINGbOING, though the text adds almost nothing to the YouTube notes about this mechanical bird-song-maker:

This wind-up mechanism has a tiny bellows and several gears that produce a remarkably lifelike bird call.

Szymon Pawelec, the collector and demonstrator who consulted on the Scorsese film Hugo, says:

A mechanical singing bird mechanism. Made around 120 years ago in Paris, probably by Bontems. In the film I hope you can identify all the major parts and see them working together to make the sound. The mechanism was in a rusted and seized state and has been restored. Surpisingly [sic] the bellows are in good original condition. See our channel for more, much more.

Here’s another one. I’m still not sure how the damn things work, producing a rather complex bird call, but I have no mechanical talent for discerning these things. It’s enough to marvel at it.

h/t: Barry

14 thoughts on “A 130-year-old old bird-call machine

  1. While listening to that first one I suddenly had a memory flashback of lying in the sun on freshly cut grass … lovely.

    1. Wow, this stuff and the machines in Jerry’s post just blow my mind. Ancient engineering and architecture are two of my favorite subjects. The idea that we still use basically the same sewer system that the Roman Empire created is remarkable, isn’t it? How were so many people from 2,000 years ago so much smarter and more knowledgeable than I am right now?

      Hell, a bunch of Roman soldiers could build a damn fort in a day. I wouldn’t know where to start.

      They occasionally filled arenas with water just to simulate ship battles! I barely know how an ice rink works.

      I love this stuff so much, but it also makes me feel incredibly stupid 🙂

  2. Jerry can you review this book for us please?

    Points of Contact: Science, Religion, and the Search for Truth (Orbis Books, 2020)

  3. To put the daily covid deaths into context – Japan has had 2172 deaths total – the US blew past that in a single day. In the meantime Trump is having superspreader events and spending time on serial lying from the White House. Roll on 2021.

  4. PCC(E) said:

    I’m still not sure how the damn things work, producing a rather complex bird call

    Although the mechanism itself is complex, the way they work is rather simple. The bellows supply air to a miniature instrument similar to a flute, with a valve over each of a series of holes along the instrument’s body. The valves are opened and closed in a sequence determined by cams set onto a rotating camshaft (the same way that a camshaft opens and closes the valves in a car engine) which is powered by clockwork, and just as a human plays a tune on a flute by opening or closing the holes along the instrument’s body, so these ingenious little devices simulate birdsong by the valves opening and closing the holes on the tiny ‘flutes’ inside them.

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