Goldfinches — Animal Communication
Communication is one way animals stay connected. Communication through bird calls can be between individuals of the same species or even across species. The goldfinch continues to learn songs into adulthood and can recognize its mate by its particular tune.
In spring, and summer during nesting, males can be heard giving their high pitched canary-like song. Their song is a series of random sounds, clear, and light, like per-chek-oree.
Some say it sounds like pot-tato-chip. As they fly each dip in their undulating flight is punctuated by tee-dee-de-dee.
The syrinx on an avian bird is a bony like structure at the bottom of the trachea and is the vocal organ. The syrinx, along with a surrounding air sac, resonates to sound waves that are made by membranes past which the bird forces air. The bird is able to control the pitch by changing the tension on the membranes and controls the volume by changing the force that it exhales. Some birds can produce two notes at once because they can control the two sides of their trachea independently.
Scientists hypothesize that bird song has evolved through sexual selection, and experiments suggest that the quality of bird song may be a good indicator of fitness.Experiments also suggest that parasites and diseases may directly affect song characteristics such as song rate, which thereby act as reliable indicators of health. The song repertoire also appears to indicate fitness in some species. The ability of male birds to hold and advertise territories using song also demonstrates their fitness.
Communication through bird calls can be between individuals of the same species or even across species. Birds communicate alarm sounds through vocalizations and movements that are specific to the threat, and bird alarms can be understood by other animal species, including other birds, in order to identify and protect against the specific threat.Mobbing calls are used to recruit individuals in an area where an owl or other predator may be present. These calls are characterized by wide-frequency spectra, sharp onset and termination, and repetitiveness that are common across species and are believed to be helpful to other potential predators by being easy to locate. The alarm calls of most species, on the other hand, are characteristically high-pitched, making the caller difficult to locate.
Individual birds may be sensitive enough to identify each other through their calls. Many birds that nest in colonies can locate their chicks using their calls. Calls are sometimes distinctive enough for individual identification even by human researchers in ecological studies.
Many birds engage in duet calls and in some cases, the duets are so perfectly timed they appear almost as one call. This kind of calling is termed antiphonal duetting. Such duetting is noted in a wide range of families including quails, bushshrikes, babblers such as the scimitar babblers, some owls and parrots. In territorial songbirds, birds are more likely to countersing when they have been aroused by simulated intrusion into their territory. This implies a role in intraspecies aggressive competition.
Some birds are excellent vocal mimics. In some tropical species, mimics such as the drongos may have a role in the formation of mixed-species foraging flocks. Vocal mimicry can include conspecifics, other species or even man-made sounds. Many hypotheses have been made on the functions of vocal mimicry including suggestions that they may be involved in sexual selection by acting as an indicator of fitness, help brood parasites, or protect against predation, but strong support is lacking for any function. Many birds, especially those that nest in cavities, are known to produce a snakelike hissing sound that may help deter predators at close range.
Some cave-dwelling species, including the Oilbird and swiftlets (Collocalia and Aerodramus spp.),use audible sound (with the majority of sonic location occurring between 2 and 5 kHz) to echolocate in the darkness of caves. The only bird known to make use of infrasound (at about 20 Hz) is the western capercaillie.
The hearing range of birds is from below 50 Hz (infrasound) to above 20 kHz (ultrasound), with maximum sensitivity between 1 and 5 kHz. The range of frequencies at which birds call in an environment varies with the quality of habitat and the ambient sounds. It has been suggested that narrow bandwidths, low frequencies, low-frequency modulations, and long elements and inter-element intervals should be found in habitats with complex vegetation structures (which would absorb and muffle sounds), while high frequencies, broad bandwidth, high-frequency modulations (trills), and short elements and inter-elements may be expected in habitats with herbaceous cover. It has been hypothesized that the available frequency range is partitioned, and birds call so that overlap between different species in frequency and time is reduced. This idea has been termed the "acoustic niche”. Birds sing louder and at a higher pitch in urban areas, where there is ambient low-frequency noise.
For an online database of well-documented bird sounds, go to the Avian Vocalizations Center Website at http://avocet.zoology.msu.edu/