Why Do Birds Sing?

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As you listen to a bird’s song, have you ever wondered why they sing? We did, so we thought we would do a little research.  Here is what we found:

  1. In general, males do the singing.
  2. Though the songs give us pleasure, birds do it to communicate with members of their own species.
  3. A prime reason to sing is to establish a territory. Singing lets other males of the same species know there is a family in this neck of the woods and intruders are not welcome.  The male singer doesn’t care about other species. There can be several different species within the same territory – no problem.
  4. The male chooses the same singing posts on the edge of his territory from which to regularly sing, which establishes the boundaries of his territory.  If a rival male crosses into this occupied territory, he will be immediately challenged.  If there is a fight, more often than not the territory’s “original” occupant will win.
  5. Another reason the male sings is to attract a suitable mate.  It is not known how a female distinguishes between a bachelor bird and one that is happily paired, but they do. It is also thought that singing further serves to strengthen the bond, maybe leading to mating.
  6. “Ecstasy Flight” songs are random and contain many improvised elements, the “jazz” renditions of bird songs.  Usually these “outbursts” occur during the peak of breeding season, often at twilight.  Mockingbirds regularly indulge in this form of song.
  7. Bird calls are different from songs, communicating totally different messages than songs.  They are short simple sounds of one or two syllables. Songbirds tend to have a larger repertoire of calls, many have 20 or more. Calls may be used to (1) communicate with a partner, (2) beg for food, (3) call their young, (4) keep in contact with the flock, (5) show aggression, or (6) warn of a predator.  Black-capped Chickadees will add “dees” to the end of their call to denote a predator is near, the more “dees” the greater the threat.  In one instance, over 20 “dees” were added to the end of the song! Wonder what caused the alarm?  A pygmy owl!

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