Birdsong why why why
Why do birds sing at all, why can many of them only be heard in the early hours of the morning and why are the male birds responsible for teaching the young birds to sing? Get the answers to these questions in today’s magazine article.
The last weeks of July are the most beautiful time of the year for all lovers of birdsong. During these weeks, a particularly large number of bird species hold their concerts in the open air. With a little luck, you can hear the first birds singing in Germany shortly after Christmas. Birdwatchers really get their money’s worth from January onwards. At first, it is mainly great tits and blue tits that can be heard, but only a short time later new species join in almost daily. Temperatures do not play a decisive role, because birds love to sing even in icy cold weather. What is decisive for the start of the concert season is the light. When the days get longer, the first birds start singing. By the way, they are particularly active in sunny weather – who wouldn’t feel like singing then?
The bird clock
In the early hours of the morning, one can sometimes get the impression that the birds are jubilating wildly outside our windows. But in reality, there is a strict order among the choirboys. Each bird species has a fixed time at which it demonstrates its skills. Already one and a half hours before sunrise, for example, the redstart makes its appearance. Half an hour later you can listen to the robin. The starling is heard much later and waits until the sun is almost completely up. In the time leading up to sunrise, there are of course overlaps between the different bird species. However, birds of the same species do not usually interfere with each other and match the singing pauses of their conspecifics. The daily repetition of bird songs in the morning is often referred to as the bird clock. If you don’t want to miss the performance of your favourite feathered friend, it’s best to set an alarm clock.
Ornithologists have discovered that urban birds start singing significantly earlier than their counterparts in the countryside. The researchers attribute this to the different brightness conditions due to artificial lighting in urban areas. The birds also adapt the timbre and volume of their chirping to their environment. For example, city birds usually sing much louder in order to assert themselves against street noise, and birds that live in the forest, for example, adapt the sound frequencies they produce to the acoustic conditions. But why do birds sing at all?
Purely a man’s business
Singing requires an enormous effort from the birds, and for this reason most animals also confine themselves to the mating and breeding season and to the early morning hours. It is assumed that the morning song is due to the particularly favourable climatic conditions at the beginning of the day. In addition, there are other pragmatic reasons: Insects, one of their food sources, start the day a little later, and so there is still enough time for the birds to hunt for food after they have completed their singing programme. The birds’ motivation for singing is mostly of a practical nature – even though it is nowadays considered proven that some of them also start trilling out of pure joy. By the way, singing is almost exclusively a male thing, the female birds have much less musicality. The pronounced desire of male birds to sing is mainly due to two things: On the one hand, they want to mark their territory against other males, on the other hand, they want to flirt with potential mates. Once a female has been found and the offspring has hatched, the male is responsible for teaching the young to sing. Bird song is not laid in the nest for the offspring, but is a matter of practice. If a young bird is separated from the family after birth, it does not learn this skill. The ability to sing in birds is not due to vocal cords and larynx as it is in humans. Birds have a membrane at the lower end of the windpipe which, when it vibrates, produces sounds.
3 exceptional talents
The nightingale: The nightingale’s song is not only beguilingly beautiful, but, as its name suggests, you can enjoy its pleasant warbling in the evening hours.
The kakapo: The kakapo is a species of parrot from New Zealand. The animal can emit a call so loud that it can be heard from more than five kilometres away.
The robin: The robin’s song can be heard all year round, and best of all, males and females often sing in duets.
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