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An Ode to Birdsong

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

Walking through the forest with the wind gently rustling the pine trees and the stronger sunshine on your face, hearing the orchestra of birdsong heralding the end of winter. Are you smiling just thinking about it? Well it turns out there is a reason behind your lifted spirits!


How does birdsong effect humans

It turns out that there is some science behind those feelings of calm and some researchers have gone so far as to suggest hearing diverse birdsong improves mood and mental alertness. The exact reasons why are up for debate, some suggest it has to do with a feeling of safety that if the birds are chirping there are not predators around, that they herald the return of spring, or that a diversity of birdsong suggests a healthy ecosystem. One thing that is agreed is that we could all use a little more birdsong in our lives.


Turns out they have a special organ in their throats called a syrinx, which puts human voices, and even instruments, to shame..”

Why and how do birds sing?

Birds chirping and singing can mean a variety of things but mainly it is to show off (i.e. attract mates) or defend their territory. It’s energy intensive and also a great way to attract predators so there has to be a good reason for it. Furthermore, if you hear singing around here it’s probably a male, because female songbirds tend to produce simpler calls, while males will go all out with more intricate and longer vocalizations which we know as songs.

Speaking of songs, why is it that birds are so much better at it than humans?? Turns out they have a special organ in their throats called a syrinx, which puts human voices, and even instruments, to shame. They have 2 sides of the syrinx which can be controlled independently. This enables them to sing 2 notes at once! Some can even sing rising and falling notes at the same time. Then there is their range, the envy of even a piano! You’ve probably seen a bright red cardinal bouncing around your yard, but did you know they can breeze through more notes than there are on a piano, and in a tenth of a second?!?! I bet even Freddie Mercury and Mariah Carrie would be green with envy.

How do they get this ability? Just like humans learning a language, birds must hear their parent’s song at a critical time in their development and then hear their own voices chirping and singing. They begin learning while still in the nest and then test out their own singing voices as they begin to fly until they match the adults around them. Some species go on to learn other “songs” such as mimicking car alarms. Another thing bird vocalization shares with humans is that they have local dialects. If the same species is isolated, for example by water, mountains, desert, they will develop slight variations which are passed onto future generations. As time goes on the variations become more pronounced.


How we are attracting birds at the Middle Farm

We recently moved to a new property that has very little by way of landscaping at the front of the property. On day one we put up our variety of bird feeders but without nearby shelter there wasn’t much to show for our effort. The first big task we took on that spring was to plant 100+ saplings around the yard. It will take a few years for them to turn into mighty trees to provide shelter, but will be quite the bird paradise when they do. We’ve worked on increasing the diversity of plants for food, nesting material, and cover around our yard to complement the trees. This includes grasses, fruit trees and bushes, and a plethora of other native plant species. There is a swamp nearby, but to bring a water source even closer to home we plan to build a small duck pond in the orchard area which will do double duty as irrigation and a bathing and drinking spot for wildlife. A few other things we do is make sure there are some ‘wilder’ areas around the lawn which include longer grasses and what most people consider weeds, as well as leaving some small brush piles for shelter and materials. It may be a few years before our plans come into their own but I look forward to the day I can open any window in the house and let in a flood of birdsong.



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