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Birdsong: Don’t just use it to compete

Birdsong: Don’t just use it to compete

When spring comes, the forests and gardens are noisy with the songs of many different birds. These songs indicate their kind to the territory they own: they try to drive away competitors and conquer the eggs.

but Australian researchers It could be much more, they discovered: In zebra finches, which are famous for their singing, their voice also plays a major role in building social relationships.

This seed-eating bird lives in large flocks in the arid interior of Australia. As a result, they are very social animals and can even learn new songs.

Because it is easy to keep in captivity, it is one of the most studied birds. However, observing them in the wild is no longer so simple.

To this end, the researchers placed 20 microphones in the wild, which recorded sounds every four days from dusk until dawn for an entire year. Among the vocalizations recorded in this way, it was possible to filter out the song of male zebras, which is unique to each specimen and relatively quiet—compared, for example, to the loud signaling vocalization of kacagójancsi (also known as kokabura).

When a bird’s song is soft, it is a sign that it is not a warning sound.

The zebra finches’ song is only heard by other nearby specimens, and they often sing when the group is relaxing together, for example in the bushes.

So what could be its function? When each male produces his own unique song, group members can tell them apart and see how many males are around.

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When a song of one male is played over another, it leads to aggressive behavior in the territorial birds. However, the opposite happens with zebra finches: males approach to sing together. Therefore, it is possible to hear the song of several males from the same bush at the same time.

Researchers captured the footage in 2019, when Australia was hit by its worst drought in the past 100 years. The conditions were far from ideal, but the song of the zebra birds could be heard every day – although the birds haven’t even attempted to lay eggs this year.

However, when the weather changed from dry to rainy and floods came, the grass began to grow. This meant that the seeds would soon ripen, which gave rise to sparrows.

As the drought subsided, it became clear in the recordings that the males were singing more and more. Most of them were sung during the spawning period. Accordingly, the researchers believe that zebra finches’ song is an ongoing “conversation” between the egg and its partner, which helps coordinate their activity. Singing may be affected by how the individual is feeling. When enough food is available, the birds feel better and sing more. When individuals hear that there are more people singing in the area, so they feel good, they are more likely to decide to breed.

Many birds use songs to mark their territory and find a mate, but oddly enough, this is not the case at all with zebra finches. Males start singing after mating.

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There are birds in which couples sing together to strengthen the bond between them, or even go to a wedding dance. However, the eggs of the zebra finch do not sing at all. Supposedly, male singing is sufficient to strengthen the bond between pairs. Now that researchers have figured this out, it’s worth checking out this behavior in other birds. Although birdsong is as much a part of our lives as “background noise”, to them they are more than just great melodies. The researchers noted that this is the basis of their life and greatly influences the lifestyle of the particular species.

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