What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Song birds

on June 10, 2014


This morning I was abruptly awoken by a terrible racket coming from the coop. I really hope that I was the only one woken up in our neighbourhood.
I realised I had forgetting to close the Gillybirds in last night, and from the noise they were making I reckoned there must be a fox or other threat in the garden. I threw on my slippers and headed outside. It was 4.18am.
Outside there was a predawn mist, it was cold but bright, there was dew on he grass, and I was welcomed by our three feathered ladies looking bright eyed and bushy tailed, and clearly not in any distress at all, thank goodness.
I quickly realised that they were making a noise looking for their breakfast and I reckon, to compete with the birdsong choir that was going on int the trees all around us. After getting some food for them (surprising a couple of dozing dogs who just curled up and went back to sleep again) I stood for a few minutes just to listen to the wonderful feathered choir that was celebrating the start of a new day.
And thinking that if this was a choir audition, the Gillybirds would fail. What they lack in tunefulness however they certainly made up for in enthusiasm.
Perching birds, or ‘songbirds’ (passerines) account for nearly half the world’s 9,600 bird species. While singing behaviour varies, most takes place during the breeding season generally more in the early morning (and to a lesser extent, late afternoon). This is when they are settled in their territory and are marking their presence to others in the area.
There is also a school of thought that says birds sing most in the mornings because sound carries further, linked to the lack of general noise and the density of the air at that time.
The dawn chorus may can dip in intensity during the breeding season, mainly during the short mating periods and again when the young are being cared for. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to defend/mark their patch and tend to the young! In the UK during high summer, the dawn chorus starts as early as 4am. Yes, I can confirm this! The first birds to stir are usually blackbirds, robins and wrens.
For the most part, it is the males that sing – a consistently repeated pattern of tones, mostly from an elevated or conspicuous spot within their territory or breeding area. Some birds, such as buntings and skylarks, sing on the wing. While birds usually do not sing around their nests, a few sing a quiet ‘whisper song’ that can be heard only within a few yards. For a few species, such as robins, the female also occasionally breaks into song.
As a basic rule, songs are generally long and complex whereas calls are short and simple. Birds sing from their syrinx, a kind of double voice box at the bottom of their windpipe. Two sets of membranes and muscles where the windpipe branches into the lungs vibrate at high frequencies as air is exhaled. In fact, while singing, a bird can alternate exhaling between its two lungs and thereby sing in harmony with itself. How I would love to be able to do this myself.
The songs of birds are learned, not inherited. Within a couple of months, fledglings develop a ‘subsong’ that matures into an adult primary song in around a year or so as they reach breeding maturity. From this learnt behaviour, a number of species have a varying number of songs and calls. House sparrows have just one simple song; song thrushes and nightingales by comparison have several different varieties of song. Other species are expert’s at mimicry and will copy other sounds ranging from other birds to mechanised sounds that they may encounter. Starlings are well known for this and species such as the jay are known to mimic birds of prey such as buzzards to scare off intruders to their territory.
And hens, well they just open their beaks and let rip.
Especially at 4.18am on a Tuesday morning.
the picture above is a papercutting which I made about a month ago, showing a “stack” of hens – rooster, hen and chick, welcoming the morning sun


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