Birding Today: Birds sing for variety of reasons | News


Now that most birds are on the southern territory or in the Boreal Forest, which is one of the largest breeding territories, what can we say about birds in general and whether or not weather has a large effect on them, as well as noise pollution, or even playback?

We learned that during the first breeding cycle during COVID-19 in 2020, there were a lot of changes, as the out of doors was a lot quieter than we remembered it. We also observed more birds during this time period, as they considered it safe to visit areas that normally had a great deal of human traffic. Since many birds were out of work with the large number of those ill during the pandemic, we had more time to bird, and for those of us that had mornings off regardless, we observed that population numbers of birds at our home bases were a lot more prevalent.

Weather will always have an effect on birds, as during the chillier months, birds expend a more energy with birdsong claiming and defending territory. Energy consumption costs that bird something, and it can easily shorten its life or require it to eat more than is available, so effects can be negative. If there are young in the nest, it will affect them, and birds can have good and bad years, just like this spring when some areas of the country had five to six inches of rain in a four-day period. There were nests that fell to the ground and many young birds died as a result.

Playback can also be detrimental to birds, especially the rarer ones, which makes sense. Also there can be difficulties with those that are more common, as sometimes both males and females are answering challenges, and unfortunately those that may be less experienced are not sure when to stop using playback. It can actually tire out a breeding adult so much trying to defend territory that an actual usurper can win the territory that normally would not. Then those nestlings are endangered if they cannot get the care that they need if parents vacate their former territory.

The Female Birdsong Project began in 2016 with Karan Odom’s and Lauryn Benedict’s study about 64% of female birds that sang regularly. Odom received one of the 2019 James G. Cooper Early Professional Awards for this breakthrough study. There are likely more females, but due to lack of documentation, this number may not stand. This ancestral trait is more common in the tropics, as territory is held by pairs year round, and North American birds may leave that job to the males while they are preoccupied with raising young and needing to remain quiet on the nest. Watch your female warblers, as many of them have been discovered to sing as well as the male. Song usually occurs with females that reside in thick habitat.

Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds. Happy birding!

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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