Singing in the Grass – Why Do Birds Sing?

Song-Sparrow-on-Branch

Here we are more than a month from winter, but I can hear the faint songs of spring off in the distance. It won’t be long again, even though only last month the birds were on their way to wintering grounds. Many birds remain in our area through winter (see a number of posts on this blog featuring them), so there are many things to notice and study about birds. One thing that always intrigued me is not why birds sing, but when they do so.

In the post on Grassland Birds, I offhandedly mentioned how their song will be missed if the birds disappear. I know from personal experience, how I enjoy listening to the early risers in my own garden, but when going to nature preserves and parks, I think I would miss the song of these grassland birds much more. It is what brings me to these places.

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The world over, birds sing mostly around dawn, but it was never understood as to why.

Studies surmise dawn has the least wind disturbance and the air makes the sound carry, but it could be as simple as the cool morning air is too heavy with mist for the insects to start their day. If birds are not feeding in the morning then singing for mates is a reasonable activity.

Goldfinch-foragingThe strange thing about singing, is that not only are the birds supposed to respond to it hearing the loud calls, but predators keep an ear out too. So defending territory and attracting a mate can make a tasty morsel out of the little songster.

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Another oddity is males will sing for extended times. Males sing almost continuously until they get a mate, but once they do, the song changes to short bursts for defending territory. The bird watchers know these varying calls, but some birds have up to 2000 songs in their repertoire. Can you imagine knowing 2000 calls of a single bird? How did researchers even find out a Brown Thrasher has so many different calls?

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The song of many are just amazingly continuous, loud, projecting and sweet. It seems they sing for minutes on end without stopping to catch their breath. In reality though, they take shortened breath between each syllable they sing to keep the burst of song going.

Field-sparrow-on-twig

Not everybody is singing, some are just listening.

Bobolink-Singing It is a chorus of sound and when males try to attract females onto their territory, they sing longer and more complex songs. More singing occurs when birds are foraging the wildflowers for insects and seed clinging to nodding grasses. The males stretch to belt out a tune announcing their territories.

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Many grassland birds are annoyingly adept at appearing for only seconds for the camera. So sound helps birders and photographers locate specific birds in the literal jungle of the vast grasslands.

Wildflower-fieldI found that birdwatchers listen more than they watch. The song is what tells them what to look for and where to look.

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If you are curious where a nest might be located, do you know males claim territory by singing while in it? In the hay-field I showed loaded with bobolink, those birds were singing over their claimed spot in the vast grassland. They would leap up and flutter for a moment calling from mid-air. It was fun watching the birds pop up and down like ping-pong balls.

Daisy-field-2Would you not sing in a meadow as pretty as this one?

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It really is amazing what one learns on nature walks. The birders are such a knowledgeable group. I never realized bird song could be so complex, varied and interesting.

DaisyAll of you waiting for spring… well, it will have birds outright operatic heralding in the season.

Song-Sparrow-SingingUp next, more scenic places from my recent trip.

On Nature and Wildlife Pics, Birds in Winter Weather – Birds, Birds and More Birds. Hope on over for why I like photographing birds in winter the BEST!

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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39 Responses to Singing in the Grass – Why Do Birds Sing?

  1. I really enjoy your photos. They are just beautiful. I love hearing the early birds wake up in the morning too. I can’t stand crows though!

  2. It worked, I got the email notification. Even though I was signed up for it, I had to unsubscribe and re-subscribe, weird. I love the song of white-throated sparrows, which i here in Pa in the spring and then in ME when they arrive there.

  3. Pat says:

    Wonderful post.Love the Goldfinch in the dandelions.

  4. diggingher says:

    Thank you for this lovely post. I just adore the birds in my yard and in my world. There is a bird, I do not know what kind, who’s song always brings me back to a happy place from my childhood. I have come to know the songs of the birds that nest in my yard and feed at our feeders. It brings me great joy and peace to watch and listen to God’s sweet little creatures.

  5. johnvic8 says:

    A delightful post. Very insightful.

  6. Aquileana says:

    A beautiful gallery and a very informative and interesting post… I truly enjoyed the reading!. Thank you. All the best to you. Aquileana πŸ˜€

  7. When I saw your title, I knew this would be a fun post–but then, all your posts are fun! Thanks for the hopeful signs of birdsongs in winter and spring that follows. I love to take nature walks in all seasons, too. At least when you’re walking (or skiing) you can stay warmer. πŸ™‚

  8. Great pictures of the birds singing, and also of the goldfinches with dandelion seed. Interesting that male birds sing less after finding a mate, I think most human males tend to become less talkative also.

  9. Terrific post – this is also one of my favorite questions. I’ve discovered several books on the subject, from highly technical, more scientific books, to books written more for the layperson – you’ve done a great job addressing this fascinating topic in an understandable and enjoyable way. As always, great shots, too! Thanks!

  10. Great information and wonderful photos.

  11. I love listening to the birds singing. They are really vocal at the moment as they are mating. It is not just dawn that they are loud, but also at dusk. Sometimes they can even drown out the tv, that is how loud they have been. In the mornings I sit at the table watching out into the garden to watch the birds trying to catch flying insects or fighting with one another over the crumbs I throw out for them. πŸ˜€

    • As mentioned in the post, the males sing constantly when searching for a mate. At dusk during other times of the year, they may sing before seeking out shelter for the night. A lot of squawking goes on, especially in winter, when the birds jockey for the best shrubs to spend the night.

  12. Ah, what a lovely post, Donna! Even if I’m not a birdwatcher, I’m a regular every dawn to their concerts! I love to hear them, whether soloists or duets, they’re such an inspiration.

  13. alesiablogs says:

    I listen to their songs and I really get excited in my little backyard. I pull out the camera every time hoping this is the moment I am going to get that priceless picture!

  14. diggingher says:

    I saw this posted on FB today and immediately thought of this post. “Once upon a time,
    When women were birds,
    There was the simple understanding
    That to sing at dawn
    And to sing at dusk
    Was to heal the world through joy.
    The birds still remember what we have forgotten,
    That the world is meant to be celebrated.”
    ~ Terry Tempest Williams

  15. Love the photos and really found your thoughts interesting…It is always so enjoyable to read your posts.

  16. Annette says:

    As a keen bird watcher your posts are a joy for me. Just as I write I can watch the birds in my garden, taking noisy baths, feeding…there’s still so much birdsong, it’s funny but I guess they too know that winter is still ahead but they want to make the most of the fine autumn weather. Thanks for this, Donna, and enjoy your weekend πŸ™‚

  17. Amazing post and the grasslands look so inviting. Yes, there is so much too learn about the amazing biodiversity of birds and their songs. My task for next year is to improve on the listening as the birds are so wold on our Finca they flit out of view as soon as you get just a glimpse!

  18. I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours, Donna! That bobolink is delightful, and I love the goldfinch eating the dandelion seeds. Words to make the reader think deeply and differently about why birds sing. P. x

  19. I listen as well and then look as I know many birds by their spring songs…I would miss it terribly if it went away. And what a job to listen for and catalog 2000 bird songs…..

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