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Why do birds sing? (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by on in Attracting and feeding wild birds
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One reason we feed wild birds around our homes is that we presume they appreciate a little help from their human friends. Another reason is that we simply enjoy having them around us. We like watching their antics, seeing their colors, and listening to them.

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White-crowned Sparrow

Each bird species is capable of making a variety of sounds that it uses to communicate with other birds. These sounds are songs, which usually are long and complex, and calls, which usually are short and simple. By encouraging birds to visit our yards, we are more likely to hear most of their vocalizations.

Songbirds account for nearly 60% of the world’s 9,500+ species and almost 40% of the more than 900 species found in North America. For the most part, only the males “sing” – a consistently repeated pattern of tones. The females of a few species, including Northern Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, also occasionally break into song.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Song-Sparrow-Marvin-Stauffer-PA.jpg
Song Sparrow

Birds generally sing more in the early morning and late afternoon. While singing behavior varies among species, most vocalizations take place during the breeding season. Lags occur during the short mating season and when the young are being cared for. Singing usually pauses when the nesting season is

The songs of birds are learned, not inherited. If a White-crowned Sparrow grew up with only Song Sparrows around, it would learn Song Sparrow songs. Fledgling birds first develop a “sub-song” that matures into an adult primary song in about a year. Although Chipping Sparrows have only one basic song, Song Sparrows may have 10, some wrens may have more than 100, and – as many of you well know – Mockingbirds seem to have a repertoire of a couple hundred songs that are voiced endlessly!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Chipping-Sparrow-Jennifer-Rector-Winston-Salem-NC.jpg
Chipping Sparrow

In Part 2: We learn more about how, where and why birds sing.

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