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Birdsong & Climate

June 15, 2009

Birds that live in more variable climates sing more sophisticated songs.


Climate-enhanced bird songs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[SFX: simple bird song – scaly-breasted thrasher]

Some bird songs, like that of the scaly-breasted thrasher, are simple and repetitive. But its cousin the brown thrasher sings a much trickier tune:

[SFX: Complex bird song – brown thrasher]

New research suggests that a bird’s native climate can determine its musical chops. Behavioral ecologist Carlos Botero of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina led the study, which compared different species of mockingbirds.

CARLOS BOTERO (National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, Durham, NC):
We found that species living in more variable and unpredictable environments tend to also have more elaborate song displays.

He says that female birds in such climates may be especially interested in mates who can learn and adapt easily, forcing the males to show off their brainpower with sophisticated melodies. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Birdsong audio courtesy of Macaulay Library at Cornell University