Have you ever wondered why birds sing? I
have. And the answer isn't only "Because they can." There are
other reasons why birds sing. Let's do some exploring together
about bird song.
Ornithologists believe birds sing to
declare their territories. Most animals have an area or
territory they call their own. Birds are no different. It takes
a lot of energy to patrol one's territory and, in the case of
birds, it would mean they would have to fly to wherever their
invisible boundaries are. Flying takes more energy than singing.
Hence, bird song tells other birds, especially rival males,
"This is my property and I own it - stay away"
Another reason birds sing is to impress a
potential mate. Songs may reflect a male's overall health thus
increasing his chances of gaining a mate. Like humans, singing
in birds is a chance to show off. And in some members of the
family, like Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird and Northern
Mockingbird, the larger the repertoire of songs the chances of
attracting a quality mate and better territory are enhanced.
Georgia is the only state in the U.S. to
claim the Brown Thrasher as it's state bird. A Brown Thrasher
that was studied by Don Kroodsma of the Rockefeller Univ. Field
Research Center in Millbrook, N.Y. had a repertoire of 2,400
different and distinct songs! Pretty good for a songbird that
weighs just over 2 ounces and has a brain the size of a pea.
Songbirds, a species from the oscine
(ah-SEEN) group of passerine (PASS-er-een) birds, (including
sparrows, thrushes, and warblers) have a specialized voice box
called a syrinx that can produce complex sounds. Songbirds must
learn their songs rather than developing them instinctively. The
learning process begins while they are still in the nest as they
listen to adults of their species sing.
The songbird syrinx makes vocal gymnastics
possible–for example the Northern Cardinal is able to sweep
through more notes than are on a piano keyboard in just a tenth
of a second. Because each branch of the songbird syrinx is
individually controlled, the cardinal can start its sweeping
notes with one side of the syrinx and seamlessly switch to the
other side without stopping for a breath, making them the envy
of human vocalists everywhere. And I thought Roy Orbison was a
The syrinx organ in songbirds is located
where the trachea splits into two bronchial tubes. In songbirds,
each side of the syrinx is independently controlled, allowing
birds to produce two unrelated pitches at once. Some birds even
have the ability to sing rising and falling notes
simultaneously, like the Wood Thrush in its final trill.
Not to be confused with songs, birds also
give calls. Bird calls are more simple in origin and have
different meanings than song. Calls tend to be shorter, less
rhythmic sounds used to communicate a nearby threat or an
individual's location. I cannot tell you how many times birds
have alerted me to a snake or a cat in my yard.
Because I actively listen to birds, I
realized something wasn't right one day a few years ago when I
heard Purple Martins in my next-door neighbor's yard frantically
calling. Their call wasn't their usual bubbly, rolling,
bring-asmile-to-your-face, happy song they sing; it was more
urgent, constant and harsh like something was terribly wrong. I
walked to my neighbor's martin housing to find a huge Black Rat
Snake hanging all over the support pole and gourds. The birds
alerted me to the presence of a predator because I listened.
To me there is no better music to my
auditory senses than the early morning dawn chorus. The dawn
chorus peaks during nesting season and is performed in North
America by male songbirds maintaining their territories. In
Central and South America some females sing also. At times it
can be almost deafening yet, oh so sweet to the ear. And the
best part is that nature's concert is free.
When you stop to think about it dawn is
perpetual. As Earth revolves there is morning somewhere all the
time. Which means there are birds singing a dawn song 24 hours a
day, 7 days a week somewhere on Planet Earth.
In October 2015 my pastor, Bryan Myers,
preached a series on the Lord's
Prayer. In one of his sermons he mentioned
about all creation rejoicing before the Lord. Which got me to
thinking and doing some research.
Psalm 96:1 says, "Oh, sing to the Lord a
new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth." And Psalm 98:4
proclaims, "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break
forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises." And finally, Psalm
150:6 tells us, "Let everything that has breath praise the
Lord." Well, animals have breath and birds are animals. Could it
be that as the Earth is spinning on it's axis that there is a
continual praise going out to the Lord from everything that has
breath (like the birds)? Do sparrows of the fields praise their
Creator through bird song? Is it possible that there is yet
another reason birds sing that ornithologists have yet to
One of my favorite quotes was from a man
by the name of Jacob Post Giraud, 1811-1870. He said, "Those who
pass through life without stopping to admire the beauty,
organization, melody or habits of birds rob themselves of a very
great share of the pleasures of existence."
I think Mr. Giraud was spot on. Take time
to really listen this spring to nature's concert. It's a great
way to start your day.
Some information in this article is
reprinted with permission from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Learn more at www.allaboutbirds.org.
Reprinted with the permission of
the Americus Times Recorder.
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