Retrotechtacular: Singing Bird Automata


Our cats were both sleeping near the computer and these videos were driving them nuts. To our ears these birdsongs sound pretty good. They didn’t trick the cats into stalking mode, but they did spark an audible complaint. So the predators aren’t drooling but the mechanical engineers reading this should be. These automata combine the precision of a mechanical clock with a bellows and specialized whistle to recreate birdsong.

You’ve got to hear it for yourself to appreciate the variety produced by the mechanisms. The first video shows off the device seen on the left. This particular model is from the 1890’s and the demo gives a good look at the arms that open and block a passageway to alter the sound. After seeing that link — which was sent in by [Stefan] — we started searching around for more info on the devices. The one pictured to the right turned up. It’s from YouTube user [Singing Bird Boxes] who has many videos showcasing these types of devices. We picked this one because he tried to explain how each part of the mechanism works. These are still being made today, but there’s something magical about seeing one built during the steam age.

We’d like to make Retrotechtacular a weekly feature every Tuesday. Help us out by sending in links to projects that highlight old technology, instructional videos of yore, tours of museums or similar relics.


16 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: Singing Bird Automata

  1. I have one of these at my work, complete with a bird. When you wind it up a small oval shaped lid flips open and the bird pops out and moves around and flaps its wings while the song plays. The complete mechanism is maybe 3.5″ long by 2″ wide by 1.5″ high. The bird is smaller than the tip of my thumb. It’s really pretty incredible to see it in action.

  2. Digital came before analogue but in this case this is analogue. Cam control goes back hundreds of years as well as pins on a drum. Restoration of these are just the same as player piano technology. I have been busy on players.

  3. I realize this a very old thread but this is the tech that spurred Disney to create the Tiki Bird first audioanimtronics after he bought a bird in a cage in New Orleans on vacation and the Imagineers ran with it.

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