Naturalists are no longer keen to dismiss the idea that birds sing from high spirits. When a bird sings, it's using up time and energy which could be spent finding food. At the same time it's advertising it's presence to predators. Birds would have ceased singing long ago if the survival value of being conspicuous did not outweigh the dangers.
Here are ten things you may not know about birds' song;
- Song is only one element in the bird's vocabulary. Each bird has a number of calls, more than a dozen different sounds for many species, each with it's own meaning
- The Chaffinch has 13 different calls in addition to its song, and even it's young have two different types of begging calls. One before they fledge and one after. The Collard Dove has five calls - an alarm call, an aggressive call, two different notes for courtship, and one for showing a nest site to a mate.
- Bird song is concerned primarily with defending territory or attracting a mate, whereas calls pass on information, such as warning of a predator. Birds singing in defence of it's territory will pay careful attention to the songs of others doing likewise. A Robin or Wren will pause after each song phase to allow rivals to get in their "Answer". These "Duels" allow rivals to know if there might be trouble or if the call can safely be ignored.
Songs tend to be complex arrangements of notes, uttered rhythmically and in most cases by the male. They are generally short groups of up to five notes. The sound it makes communicates many things - what species it is, sex, identity and even condition, and can trigger off sexual excitement, curiosity or fear.
- At the beginning of the breeding season, two instincts shape the bird's life - lay claim to territory and find a mate. Song functioning as a language conveys information from bird to bird making both things possible. A bird's song goes into such fine details as; pitch, rhythm, repertoire and also state individual identity. Some bird's song differs from district to district, almost like a pattern of regional dialect. Territorial songs are long range wailings, but interestingly enough reaching the boundary of their territory. A Red Warbler's song can be heard 300 yds away, with it's territorial area usually being 300 sq yds.
- There is a connection between plumage and bird song. The less conspicuous the plumage the louder the song.
- Birds living in dense vegetation tend to sing more loudly than those of open habitats. The Bittern which nests in reeds may be heard a mile from it's habitat. Despite the Wren's very small size, it's song is incredibility penetrating and can be heard in competition of many other woodland birds. Interestingly enough it's penetrative sing is conducive of the fact it holds a territory of 2 - 3 acres.
- Birdsong also need to be persistently to make a point. The Yellow Hammer repeats it's song from Dawn until Dusk and will deliver that song over a 1,000 times.
- Birdsong is intrinsically associated with season. There is scientific truth that the Cuckoo's call announces the arrival of Spring, and although birds might sing at anytime of the year, they are more defined in Spring. At which time song erupts in response to hormone induced changes in the bird's body - particularly the increase in size of it's reproductive organs - caused by extra hours of daylight.
- Most birds sing for 20 - 40 mins around Dawn than at any other time. Blackbirds usually start 40 mins before Sunrise, closely followed by the Song Thrush, Wood Pigeon, Robin, Mistle Thrush, Turtle Dove, Pheasant, Willow Warbler and Wren [In that order].
- Birds which roost together usually sing together before settling down for the night, hence the surge of singing at Dusk.
Marian Murdoch is author and web master of www.picturecollector.net which offers a website/gallery of a slection of antique/modern bird prints, plus many other subjects. You can submit articles to amazine.com
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