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Nothing says spring like the sound of birdsong

Alice Kirk

Isn’t it nice when finally, after what feels like years of winter, the clocks spring forward. It’s light in the evenings again, and spring is maybe – just maybe – on its way at last. We here at GFK are particularly excited that spring is here because it means we can finally get outside and get growing!

Nothing says spring more like bright evenings, baby animals and the sound of birds chirruping in the morning. Some birds’ songs are so intricate and beautiful that to hear them will take your breath away. It got us thinking: why do birds sing at all?

We may enjoy hearing birds singing, but we are not the only ones listening: a bird singing at the top of its syrinx (more on that later) is advertising its whereabouts to every predator in the area. Not only that, but producing such a loud noise is tiring for a tiny little bird, and uses a lot of energy. So to make it worth the risk and the cost, singing has got to have some pretty strong benefits.

Birds sing for two main reasons: to attract a mate, and to defend their territories. Male birds show off their singing skills to impress the opposite sex, in the hope that they will woo a mate. Female birds are attracted by the most impressive songs, and the most impressive songs are sung by the healthiest males.

Many species of bird are territorial and will go to great lengths to defend their patches. Singing helps them to do this. It sends a loud ‘clear off!’ message to rival birds, ensuring that they think twice before trying to steal the resident’s food, nesting sites or mates.

Rather like human singers, songbirds learn repertoires of songs, which are sung for different occasions. For example, a bird may sing a particular tune if trying to attract a mate, but quite a different tune if trying to ward off rivals or alert others to danger.

As we touched on earlier, songbirds have a special organ in their throats called a syrinx, which is where the sound is produced. Almost all bird species have syrinxes (except some vultures), but these organs are most highly developed in songbirds. The syrinx performs similar functions to the human voicebox (larynx), but the sound is produced differently. In a larynx, folds of membrane vibrate as air flows through them, and muscles variously tighten these folds to produce sounds of different pitches. A syrinx does not have these folds. Instead, the movement of air vibrates the walls of the syrinx itself. Different pitches and sounds are made when muscles control the shape of these walls and the flow of air as it enters from the lungs. Remarkably, some birds can even produce more than one note at a time – not even the best human opera singers can do that!

Tragically, many species of songbirds are declining in the UK. Here at Gardening for Kids we are committed to educating children about the importance of looking after birds and providing them with food and shelter. These remarkable creatures are an integral part of spring and the fabric of our countryside, but they need our help to survive. We’ve got all sorts of things to help your children protect the birds in your area; from nesting wool to bird feeders to spotters’ guides. Why not check out our ever-popular range of RSPB songbird soft toys. Not only do they look authentic, but they sing just like the real thing too!



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