Let’s face it, the outdoors is part of our DNA.
We Missourians continue to do our best to follow the guidelines laid out by county, state and national health officials because we know it’s something we must do to get to the other side of these troubled times of the coronavirus. But, while we’re adhering to those important measures to the best of our abilities, we’re still trying to sneak in a little enjoyment of the natural world because that’s healthy for us, too, and, as stated above, it’s part of who we are.
If you’re looking for something that will allow your family to do both — stay in compliance with health guidelines and enjoy nature — here’s a simply activity to try: Start listening and keeping track of the bird songs you hear. This sounds simple, and perhaps a little mundane, but once you start noticing the diversity of vocalizations there are in the bird world, it might very well give you the urge to listen for more.
We all know spring is a prime time to hear birds. These bird sounds can range from a cardinal’s melodious trill to a turkey’s loud gobble: All are forms of springtime bird vocalization. These sounds that are often entertaining to human ears are necessary parts of a bird’s annual life cycle. Why there’s so much bird song at this time of year is a well-known fact: It’s often the males that are vocalizing, and they’re usually either trying to court a female or are telling another male that he’s intruding on someone else’s territory. However, there are other interesting details of bird song that are often overlooked by many people.
Like why much of spring bird song occurs in the morning. There are a number of theories about this, and several probably have some validity.
Some biologists think birds instinctually know this is a good time to make noise — especially for courtship purposes. There is generally little or no wind at this time of day and, as a result, bird sounds tend to carry greater distances. There’s also a theory that, because the cooler temperatures at sunrise tend to squelch insect activity and, thus, many types of birds can’t be feeding during this time, it’s a good time to work on the duties of courtship and territorial establishment.
If you stop and listen to bird songs, you’ll notice some males have a varied repertoire of calls and can sometimes make their calls quite complex. As with every other characteristic of nature, this is another form of biology at work. In the bird world, having greater vocalization skills is a sign of being stronger and healthier and a better mate. These are the kind of sounds female birds want to hear because besides survival, their other main goal is to produce strong, healthy offspring.
Physical makeup assists birds with their song variation. A bird’s syrinx — which is its voice box and the equivalent of a human’s larynx — is situated much closer to the lungs than a larynx is to a human’s lungs. This arrangement allows birds to produce a greater variety of sounds than we humans can.
You’ve probably noticed many birds are prone to go to a high perch (top of fence post, top branches of trees, telephone wires, etc.) to begin vocalizing. This is an instinctual tactic many birds do to make sure they’re songs travel farther. Singing from an elevated perch is a great way to minimize sound interference that might come from ground vegetation and trees.
If you’re interested in honing your bird identification skills, mornings for the next couple of months will be great times to do that. For many people, bird songs pretty much sound the same until they take time to listen to them. Once you let your ears do the work, you’ll notice the variety of sounds coming from your backyard on any given morning. You’ll also notice some species have more than one call. If you start making a list of the different calls you hear, you might be surprised at the number of bird species you have in your neighborhood.
If you decide to take your bird-listening activities outside your yard to a nearby park or other public area, remember to follow all current health guidelines. These include the following:
• Avoid crowded places.
• Stay 6 feet apart from others.
• Stay home if you feel sick.
• Bring water, soap and sanitizer.
• Be considerate of others.
Information about birds in Missouri and some of the vocalizations they make can be found at mdc.mo.gov.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call (417) 895-6880.