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.
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.
The 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.
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?
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.
Not everybody is singing, some are just listening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!