By Wendy Langhans
Do you sing in the shower? In a church choir? Do you download songs from “Glee” on iTunes? Watch old Hollywood muscials on TCM?
People love to sing and listen to each other sing. It’s part of what makes us human. And perhaps, that’s one reason why so many of us enjoy watching birds – we get to listen to them sing.
Bird songs are complex vocalizations, used to attract mates or defend their territory. Bird calls, on the other hand, are simpler and used in day-to-day activities such as finding food, gathering together in flocks or warning each other about predators.
Although they both sing, birds and humans do not have the same voice box. It’s true they both have a larynx, which is located at the top of the trachea (windpipe), but it’s not used in the same way. The mammalian larnyx contains vocal cords, which vibrate as air passes across them. Click here for a video. In birds, however, the larnyx is used like a valve, to regulate the flow of air into the trachia. The avian larnyx does NOT contain vocal cords.
Bird have a syrinx, which is located at the bottom of the trachea (windpipe), just above the bronchial tubes. Birds have three types of syrinx, but for our story, I want to concentrate on the type most commonly found in songbirds – the tracheobronchial syrinx – which is shaped like an upside down “Y”. In the syrinx are two sheet-like membranes, which vibrate back and forth as air passes across them. This vibration, which is modulated by the muscles surrounding the syrinx, is what creates the birdsong.
Although created by different voice boxes, bird and human songs share one additional thing in common – their messy overtones are filtered out by changing the shape of their vocal track. Songbirds, like this Cardinal, produce a purer sound by modulating the shape of their throat and beak. Opera singers, like these sopranos, also produce a purer sound through modulating the shape of their throat and mouth. And shower singers, like me, muffle their messy overtones behind thick shower curtains.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, January 15, 8:00-10:00 AM, Morning Bird Hike at Towsley Canyon. Kick off the new year by scouring the trails and identifying birds with Volunteer Naturalist Roger. With the migratory birds gone, it is a great time to view the resident activity. Beginners are welcome. Bring binoculars, easy walk. 2 hrs. For directions and trail maps, click here.
Saturday, January 15, 1:00-3:00 PM, at Whitney Canyon. Hibernate, Migrate, or Tolerate. Join Volunteer Naturalist Wendy for an afternoon resolving winter’s dilemma, how animals cope with the cold and scarcity of winter. Meet in the parking lot for this easy hike. 2 hrs. For directions and trail maps, click here.
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at email@example.com for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, January 5, 12, 19 & 26.
Saturday mornings, January 8 & 22.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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