Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dawn of the Male Singers

Lake Hartwell, South Carolina

As early dawn takes over my sleepy brain,  I sit outside in a folding rocking chair with a cup of coffee, listening to the plethora of birds chirping, singing and honking. The geese have moved into the swim area again. I watch them stalk through the sand, preening their feathers. Then one slips silently into the waters. The others follow one by one. They float on the lake in the perceived safety of the cordoned swimming area.

Paul Hanford, an evolutionary biologist, says male birds - and it is almost always the guys - break into song at dawn because it is the best time to warn other males to stay off their turf and away from their mates.

That is what Canadian researchers have discovered after analyzing the acoustics of what they call the dawn chorus.

Most birds do their singing in the early morning, and in most species the male is the vocalist.

Researchers have known for some time that male birds don't sing for the joy of it, but to warn other males to stay off their real estate and away from their partner.

Each species has its own song or songs. Individual birds perform their own signature versions, with slight variations in tone or pitch that identify them to their neighbors. It is a little like calling out their name, over and over again.

"It is a very important thing; it is a daily advertisement of their continuing tenure, their presence."

Honking geese visit the beach anytime the humans aren't around.


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