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Why the Birds are Singing

So take some time to enjoy all the birds singing over the next few weeks. And consider how important these songs are for birds. But one has to wonder if some of this singing isn’t simply the exuberant enjoyment of life.

Go outdoors around sunrise this time of year, and you are likely to hear birds seemingly singing from everywhere. It is as if they were all trying to tell us something, which they are. It is mostly the males telling us that they are staking their claim to a territory and that they are looking for a mate.

Bird vocalizations are generally categorized as calls or songs. We hear bird calls all year. Calls are used to communicate with other birds, such as announcing the presence of a threat, the discovery of some food to share, keep track of other members of a group, cry for help, and such. It is kind of like everyday chatter.

Much of what we hear this time of year is song. Males do most of the singing. The reason we are hearing so many birds singing now, of course, is because the birds are establishing their territories and also looking for a mate. Singing is the bird’s way of declaring their intentions.

Bird songs are considered to be a rather musical and complex vocalization compared to calls. And the quality of a bird’s song, such as pitch, volume, fullness, etc., is an indication of the overall health or “fitness” of the bird. The song is telling other males to get lost while crooning to the females. If all goes well for the male, the other males well get the message, and the females will be impressed.

All this singing, however, is not without risk. Singing obviously announces the presence of the bird to potential predators. Plus, it is also energetically expensive. But it is apparently worth the risks.

In a few weeks things will quiet down. By then many of the birds will be nesting. Before long, the young will need to be fed. There is other business to attend to.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of “Natural North Dakota” and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005 he has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for North Dakota’s newest newspaper, the Lake Metigoshe Mirror. His columns also appear under “The Naturalist” in several other weekly newspapers across North Dakota.
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