On Mooney Goes Wild, we begin by asking you a question. What do Beethoven, The Famous Five and Theresa May have in common with the little bird, the Yellowhammer?

Ludwig van Beethoven holds a hidden link to the Yellowhammer bird.  Photo credit: Gordon Ross Illustration/Getty Images.
Ludwig van Beethoven holds a hidden link to the Yellowhammer bird.  Photo credit: Gordon Ross Illustration/Getty Images.

Well, apparently the famous Da-da-da-dum notes (we bet you sang that in your head) at the start of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony were inspired by the Yellowhammer.

In Enid Blyton's Five Go Off in a Caravan book, she popularized the description of the Yellowhammer's song as: "a little bit of bread and no cheese".

Recently, it emerged that the British government’s "Plan B" for Brexit is actually code-named "Operation Yellowhammer". Now, it's very rare that'll you hear us talk about politics on our programme, but we've explored the connection of Operation Yellowhammer with this bird. Operation Yellowhammer is the codename used by the UK Treasury for cross-government civil contingency planning for the possibility of a "no-deal" Brexit.

Derek Mooney is joined by Zoologist and Ornithologist Dr. Richard Collins, Journalist Frank McNally known for his Irish Times column 'An Irishman's Diary' and Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland for Mooney Goes Wild.

Left to right, Dr. Richard Collins, Frank McNally & Niall Hatch pictured above.
Left to right, Dr. Richard Collins, Frank McNally & Niall Hatch pictured above.

German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven is loved by many across the world, but one of his most popular and well-known works of classical music is Symphony No. 5 in C minor is supposed to be inspired by the tune of the Yellowhammer.

The Yellowhammer is the size of a Sparrow, with its bright, canary-yellow plumage and characteristic "A little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese".

The Yellowhammer is always a pleasure to see and hear throughout the summer. In winter, it forms flocks that descend upon cereal stubbles to feed, especially on their favorite food, oats. 

Adult summer males are a stunning yellow colour on the head and underparts, appearing unlike any other Irish breeding bird species. They have an indistinct reddish-brown breast band and some faint black streaking along the flanks. The back and wings are brown with extensive black streaking. The rump is reddish-brown. Adult winter male Yellowhammers are much darker, with extensive black markings on the head and obvious black streaking on the breast. The head and underparts have an obvious yellow tint to them.

Adult females resemble winter males but have much less yellow on the head and underparts. Juveniles have a dark grey-brown head with an obvious white eye-ring.

Yellowhammer eggs in their mothers nest. Photo credit; Trötschel/Getty Images.
Yellowhammer eggs in their mother's nest. Photo credit: Trötschel/Getty Images.

The Ortolan bird is a close relation to the Yellowhammer. Dr Richard Collins first heard the call of the Ortolan bird in Poland many years ago and believes that the Ortolan inspired Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, not the Yellowhammer.

Both birds are members of the bunting family, and while the Ortolan resembles its relative the Yellowhammer it lacks the bright colouring of that species, The Ortolan's head, for instance, is greenish-grey, instead of a bright yellow. The song of the male Ortolan resembles that of the yellowhammer.

An Ortolan Bunting perched on a tree. Photo credit; DeAgostini/Getty Images.
An Ortolan Bunting perched on a tree. Photo credit; DeAgostini/Getty Images.

In France, the Ortolan bird is of concern, as it is served in French cuisine typically cooked and eaten whole. Traditionally diners cover their heads with their napkin, or a towel while eating the delicacy. The bird is so widely used that its French populations dropped dangerously low.

Listeners might remember one scene of the RTÉ docudrama where former Taoiseach Charles Haughey covers his head with a napkin in order to hide his shame from God as he begins to consume the bird by its tiny beak.

Aiden Gillen as Charles Haughey in RTÉ's 'Charlie' series beginning to eat an Ortolan bird.
Aiden Gillen as Charles Haughey in RTÉ's 'Charlie' series beginning to eat an Ortolan bird.

Dr Richard Collins believes that the EU should have got Frank to name their bird, and it should have been the Norwegian Bluebird, known to many from The Monty Python sketch. In it Mr Praline, played by John Cleese, attempts to return his dead Norwegian Blue parrot to the shopkeeper. If you haven't seen the Dead Parrot sketch, click the video below.

Mooney Goes Wild presented by Derek Mooney airs Monday nights 10PMRTÉ Radio 1. You can contact us at Mooney@rte.ie