Written By: Sarah Girton
Our first stop in our blog series focuses on the beauty of birds; their shining colors, their enchanting songs, and a few various mating behaviors where beauty is a deciding factor for mate selection. Obviously there is so much more to this diverse topic than I can cover in a single blog post, but I hope you enjoy and even learn a few things!
As though splashed with watercolor from a painter’s brush, the avian kingdom is an exquisite palette of every possible hue. From deep, vivid blues and brightest reds, to the more muted browns, whites, and greys that allow some birds to perfectly blend in with their environment, birds are the ultimate example of nature’s ability to diversify.
Even with the neutral-colored birds can come great beauty. The intricate patterns and designs on the summer plumage of the Willow Ptarmigan have their own kind of subtle elegance. And the barn owl resembles a snow-covered paperbark maple. Take a closer look at some of your local bird species, and you might find them a bit more stylish than you ever realized!
Let’s now talk a bit about the magnificent voices of birds! Birds are undoubtedly nature’s most talented singers. They use their voices for all sorts of reasons: to attract a mate, to defend their territory, even to alert flock members to potential threats. For example, the Black-capped Chickadee uses their namesake “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call to give info on the size, proximity, and likelihood of potential threats.
Who are your favorite birds to listen to? One of my favorites is the Western Meadowlark, a fairly common sight in the plains the western United States. Listen to his lovely song below:
Have you ever wondered how some birds manage to produce such impressive acoustics? The secret lies in the birds’ respiratory system. According to the British Library website:
“At the point where the windpipe divides is situated the bird’s sound producing organ, a “voice box” called the syrinx….The syrinx is double-barrelled – as if a man had twin instruments between his lips and was playing one with the outflow of one lung, and the other with air from his second lung…..Each half of the bird’s voice box is in the mirror-position of the other at the top of its own bronchus (so the set up is literally double-barrelled) and each consists of a pair of organs opposite each other on the wall of its bronchus. Thus if you were to slit open a bronchial tube, you would see on one side a little tympanum, a circular elastic membrane….The function of the extendable little bump is believed to be to change the loudness without having to change the pitch. Bear in mind that the bird may be playing at the same time a second tune on his other half.”
Another way that birds utilize beauty is through construction. You might be thinking, “What? How on earth does this relate to bird beauty?” But to Bowerbirds, which are native to Australia and New Guinea, the elaborate courtship arenas that they build can make all the difference. Some bowerbirds use their bowers to store treasures based on their favorite colors, as seen below. They hope that these precious items will win the heart of a female.
Others have even been witnessed using man made items to decorate their spaces, such as this fellow who really loves the color blue:
Another bird who uses their construction skills to gain a mate are the Weaver birds. Pictured below is the Village Weaver. If his prospective mate is in any way unsatisfied with the construction of this hanging nest, she will continue her search elsewhere. But you cannot deny that these little birds are incredibly talented. Personally, I don’t think I could make one of these if I tried!
Like I said, there is so much more to this topic than I can possibly cover in a single blog post. But I hope that you learned something new, and gained some newfound admiration for these incredible, beautiful, talented creatures of our great earth.