The Whisker Chronicles

Whiskers are also known as vibrissa, from the latin vibrare "to vibrate". Vibrissa are the specialized hairs on mammals and the bristlelike feathers near the mouths of many birds. Their resonant design is symbolic of the energies, good and bad, that are reverberating throughout the natural world. Every living thing is connected and, by birthright, deserves to exist.

The Mystery of Bird Songs and Calls

_20140328_003706“A robin feathering his nest
Has very little time to rest
While gathering his bits of twine and twig
Though quite intent in his pursuit
He has a merry tune to toot
He knows a song will move the job along”

~Mary Poppins

The increase in springtime bird vocalizations around my house has already grown to an almost distracting volume. I have no complaints except in those moments when I do not recognize the call but haven’t got the time to investigate the source.

The vocal repertoires of birds rival any others that exist in the animal kingdom. Here are some basic facts about the sophisticated and mysterious structure and function of vocalizations in birds.

1.  It all begins with a complex organ unique to birds known as the syrinx. The syrinx is located in the body cavity at the junction of the trachea and the two primary bronchi. Nearly 100 percent of the air passing through the syrinx is used to make sound, compared to only 2 percent in the human larynx. That is efficient!




2.  The syrinx consists of two halves that are controlled separately and can produce different, complex songs alternatively or simultaneously.

3.  In addition to having different frequencies, the notes produced by the dual voices can be modulated independently of one another.

4.  Bird songs and bird calls are not the same thing.

5.  Bird songs are the loud, often long, vocal displays of territorial male birds that are comprised of specific, repeated patterns.

6.  Bird calls are short and simple vocalizations which are usually given by either sex. Types of calls include distress calls, flight calls, warning calls, feeding calls, nest calls and flock calls.

7.  More varied song repertoires help to attract females and foster superiority in vocal duels in competing males.

8.  Approximately 20 percent of songbirds are open-ended learners, meaning they increase their vocal repertoires by imitating other birds.

9.  Bird songs can be inherited, learned or invented.

10.  Bird songs can vary within a species from one region of the country to another or even within one region.


My pal Larry (pictured above) and I enjoyed trying to guess the calls and songs in this video.  See how many you can guess.

One comment on “The Mystery of Bird Songs and Calls

  1. nevaknott
    April 13, 2014

    I think I remember you writing on this subject in grad school–it fascinated me then, and it fascinates me now!


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This entry was posted on March 28, 2014 by in Birds, Maymie Higgins, Ornithology, Wildlife and tagged , , , .
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