Where do birds get their songs?


Although we wish life was like a Disney movie, and we could sing along to the sounds of nature while birds and squirrels dress us and do the washing up, real life is a little different. While it’s unlikely that you can get up close and personal with a squirrel without it getting its claws out, you can still sing along with the birds – you know, if you’re into that kind of thing. Yep, unless you live in the middle of nowhere where even birds are afraid to fly, you’ll know that hearing the birds chirp and sing is a part of everyday life. Whether it’s the deep squawk of a seagull, a quick cheep of a robin, or a rapid peck of a woodpecker, we can almost determine the bird based by its song. But have you ever wondered where birds get their songs from? Well, it seems like it’s a whole nature/nurture debate…

Birds and their nurture

Just like us humans, baby birds are looked after by their parents and taught the ropes of the real world – from the bad birds, they need to avoid, to the designated flight paths, and even the rules of the birds and the bees. Just like us, they also learn their song and their language through their parents. While it may sound like a pretty awesome form of Sunday school, this education is actually run like a tight ship. To start off with, adult zebra finches will talk to their young in a specific ‘baby voice’ to teach them their songs.

As the young get older, they graduate from the baby talk class to the adult class – and by this time, the birds have been around these songs for so long that it’s like second nature to them. They are then able to flee the nest (quite literally) to go about their lives on their own, to then pass down their own language onto their next young. Alas, it is the circle of life. Where’s Simba when you need him?

Where do birds get their songs?

Birds and their nature

However, it seems as if nurture isn’t the only factor that affects a bird and their song. Researchers have also discovered that orphan birds who do not grow up with a mother or father around will learn their songs by themselves. Yep, even without any teaching, these guys are like the students at school who didn’t do any extra work and fell asleep in lessons, but still managed to come out with straight A’s. These experts have found that the birds who do not learn their songs from older birds do not have such a refined song as those who have, they can still hold a tune or two – and we know a few of those in the human music industry.

Despite the fact that these songs are less refined, it’s been noted that as the bird goes on, it shapes its song around its surroundings, and learns even more about the notes it should be hitting. Experts have come to suggest that this innate ability to enact their own song is something that is a part of their genetics and has been passed down through the course of evolution. Now that’s pretty darn cool. All we got was opposable thumbs.

Like in the human world, it seems as though the nature/nurture debate is just as prominent in the bird world – but this one seems to have an answer. Yuh-huh, it’s a bit of both! These birds get their songs from their parents, as well as their genetic code.

Where do birds get their songs?