About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How Do Birds Sing?

I woke up this morning to the screech of a Red-Tailed Hawk (not common in my yard). At first I didn't believe it, but then I heard the kee-eee-arr again. It was at first light but there seemed to be a lot of birds in the yard which is strange if there is a hawk at the feeding station. I searched the tops of the trees and then heard the songs of an American Robin, Blue Jay, and finally a Canada Goose "honk, honk" in quick succession. None of these birds happened to be in the yard at the time.

I finally located a European Starling in a tree next to my window mimicking the whole series of songs again. It reminded me of David Attenborough's TV special The Life of Birds. The following is a clip from the special showing the Lyrebird trying to attract a mate. The Superb Lyrebird is thought to have the loudest bird call in the world.
video
So how do birds produce such a complex variety of notes?

Bird have a syrinx, a sound-producing organ, that is the equivalent of the human sound box. But it is situated much lower down, at the junction of the two bronchi or air tubes leading to the lungs.This means that the syrinx has two potential sound sources, one in each bronchus. The separate membranes on each bronchus produce separate sounds, which are then mixed to produce a far greater variety of sounds than humans.The best time to hear bird song is at dawn. One reason may be that dawn is the best time for sound to travel. Or it may be because it’s still too dark to do any successful foraging.

Bird song has two main functions: to defend a territory and to attract a mate. Male birds generally use shorter, simpler songs for territorial defense. Gaps in the song enable the singer to listen for replies, and determine where their rival is and how far off.When they are trying to attract females onto their territory, males sing longer and more complex songs.

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