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How Do Birds Know What to Sing? What Are They Saying?

June 28, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 220

As you have probably already guessed, some birds are genetically preprogrammed to know how and what to sing. Still other birds learn from those in their own species. Fledglings have to rehearse their 'learned' song through much practice. Once they hear the correct melody when young, they are able to reproduce it through trial and error, until the song is perfected. Some of these bird songs may be built upon as the bird ages and develops its own distinctive 'style' of music.

All songbirds produce sound through an organ called the 'syrinx'. This organ has the complex structure to create a wide variety of sounds, from trills to whistles to melodies, chirps and chips. As you know, not all birds make 'pleasing' sounds. Ravens, for instance, elicit only harsh, scratchy wooden sounds.

Some birds have very limited song libraries. Others, like blue jays, starlings and mockingbirds are able to keep learning and replicating sounds throughout their lifetimes.

As with humans, geographic variations and regional dialects become part of a wild bird's songs. For example, in the south a native bird might add a special little half note on the end of its melody that is not part of the repertoire from the same bird up north.

Songs may vary depending upon the time of day and the season. Most birds stay quiet during nesting season in order to protect their offspring from discovery. However, while seeking a mate, birds 'go all out' to impress their future companion. During the warmer months, the dawn chorus offers an opportunity for our feathered friends to make their voices heard as they announce the beginning of another day. Cold winter weather dictates that birds reserve their energy to find food sources rather than practice their musical skills. They stay in communication by chattering among themselves.

Making announcements and sounding alarms becomes part of a bird's sound catalog for the sake of preservation of the species. A certain selection might alert those in the area to an earthbound snake, while another sound entirely posts warning of a hawk hunting over head.

In fact, talking to each other about where the food sources are, the latest predator location updates, and maintaining constant contact for security reasons while flying makes wild birds the original social networkers! They don't call it 'twitter' and 'tweeting' for nothing.

By singing at the edges of their territories, they define their claim to that area. Should any other bird of the same species try to muscle in on that territory, they will be immediately and definitely sent packing. This serves a double purpose during mating season. Any female of that species witnessing this behavior would see that her offspring would be protected, and might consider that bird a 'very good catch'.

If the female likes what she sees and also likes what she hears, that bird goes to the top of the list of possible mates. The melody produced, number of different vocalizations, loudness, pitch, etc., are all factors in determining the right mate.

Songs are not the only sounds used to attract a mate or define a territory. Woodpeckers drum on tree trunks and telephone poles in staccato beats. These drum 'songs' carry over long distances and are most attractive to potential mates, but most annoying to humans. Especially if the drumhead happens to be a nearby tree early in the a.m.; or worse, the siding on your house! We have a shiny metal chimney pipe that seems to be quite appealing to a hairy woodpecker in the area. I have a feeling as it perches on the roof, it catches sight of its reflection and decides to 'attack' the pipe thinking it is a rival woodpecker trying to move in on its territory! Or possibly it really likes the sounds it produces while drumming on that pipe.

A frequent visitor to my bird feeder is a red-bellied woodpecker that makes a high-pitched 'chip-chip' as it approaches the feeder or suet cakes. It's as if the bird is saying: "gang way - here I come." My chickadees produce a 'cheery chip' sound constantly while approaching and leaving the bird feeders. I think they're talking about the menu and the food choices!

If you listen 'deeply' to the birds at different times of the day, you'll hear many more sounds than you ever imagined were possible. Our amazing feathered friends thankfully provide the pleasant background music to our everyday lives.

Connie Smith has over 35 years of backyard birding experience. For a great selection of unique and charmingly rustic handcrafted wooden bird houses and bird feeders, visit her website at:

These bird houses and feeders have been made by American craftsmen using reclaimed antique barn wood, antique fence boards and/or wood from antique sheds, thus preserving an historic part of America's past for generations to come.

Please feel free to check out the Wild Bird Information Center. Lots of information on different backyard birds, their habitat, food preferences and nesting habits can be found there.

Source: EzineArticles
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Article Tags:

Wild Birds


Birds And Sounds


Why Do Birds Sing


Bird Sings


What Are Birds Saying


Language Of The Birds

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