Keiran's World World by word by word

The season to listen to birds’ conversations

Bald eagle. Photo by Brendan Lally, www.brendanlallyphotography.com

Bald eagle. Photo by Brendan Lally, www.brendanlallyphotography.com

Bald eagles could be the bird world’s version of heavyweight-boxer Mike Tyson. The eagle is a big bruiser of a bird. It bullies other birds, steals meals, and scavenges whenever it can. Yet, during mating season, incongruously thin, soprano sweet nuthin’s emerge from predator’s curving yellow beak.

In addition to eagles’ springtime singing along the Gorge waterway, I’ve noticed local ravens pairing up and chortling amongst themselves. Robins now out-chirp each other thoughout the day, varied thrushes rend dawn with their off-key whistles, and towhees mimic hinges in need of oil. The chestnut-backed chickadee has changed its tune from “chickadee-dee” to “Hey, baby!” And the winter wren’s love-lorn performances make me wonder how these tiny avian opera singers can sustain so many trills and arpeggios with just one breath.

White-throated sparrow. Photo by leppyone

White-throated sparrow

It’s easy enough to guess what they’re singing about right now. Something along the lines of “Let’s make beautiful music together” to the ladies, and “Get off my beat or I’ll beat you up” to other guys. These themes play out in human songs as well, as Pacific Opera’s performance of Tosca demonstrates this month. They also cause many of the same emotional responses in both animals.

Apparently, breeding female white-throated sparrows—a songbird of Canadian forests—respond to the songs of male sparrows in the same way that humans respond to pleasant music. The reward centres in the sparrow brains light up just like ours do, say the researchers who scanned the birdbrains.

Read the rest of this editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist

Sources include:

How human language could have evolved from birdsong

Birdsong syntax

Some birds seem to have grammatical rules in their songs

Birds teach secret passwords to unhatched chicks

Birdsong: music to their ears (and hearts)

Thwarted child abduction, Toronto, March 2013

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