Birds’ Singing Voices Change with the Weather

Singing Bird

Story at-a-glance -

  • In order to insure their calls are heard, some birds are able to adjust their vocalizations to accommodate changes in climate and environment.
  • Birds living in locations where there are extreme seasonal swings from wet to dry display more versatility in their singing than other birds.
  • Bird species with noticeable differences between males and females also seem to be versatile singers.

By Dr. Becker

According to a new study1, birds that inhabit climates with significant wet and dry seasons are more versatile singers than other birds.

The researchers, one in Durham, North Carolina and the other in Canberra, Australia, believe the flexibility in the birds’ vocal sounds insures their calls are heard no matter the weather.

The birds are able to sing certain notes unusually high or low to vary the sound. They can also adjust the volume and tempo of their songs.

Birds Adapt Songs to Climate and Environmental Changes

The researchers recorded the songs of over 400 male birds across 44 species, including blackbirds, cardinals, chickadees, finches, orioles, sparrows, thrushes and warblers. The recordings were made into a sound graph that allowed the researchers to measure the characteristics of each song - length, highest and lowest notes, number of notes and how far apart the notes were.

After considering both weather patterns and geography, the researchers found the birds inhabiting locales with extreme differences in precipitation sing more complex songs than other birds.

According to study co-author Iliana Medina of Australian National University, “Precipitation is closely related to how densely vegetated the habitat is. Birds that have more flexibility in their songs may be better able to cope with the different acoustic environments they experience throughout the year."

The birds are able to quickly adapt their vocalizations to variations in their environment. For example, when birds arrive at breeding grounds in the spring, the trees are still bare. But in just a couple of weeks, leaves appear and the sound of the birds’ songs changes drastically to accommodate changes in acoustics resulting from the growth of vegetation.

Interestingly, the researchers also learned that species of birds with obvious color differences between the males and females are also versatile singers.


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