Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bird Music

Bald Eagle, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Great Blue Heron

Months of bitter winter cold kept me hostage indoors earlier this year. Spring came late and then rushed by with wide temperature ranges and little rain. Forsythia and lilacs bloomed together in some areas instead of a month apart as usual. Spring birds returned in a trickle and then in a flood over the past two weeks. The forest canopy opened quickly making it hard to see some of our smallest songbirds. But the woods, marshes and meadows are alive with birdsong. I have the songs and calls of all the birds of Eastern North America on my iPod and I listen to them in the car, hoping to become familiar with more of them.

Brown Thrasher, Red-winged Blackbird (2), Norther Flicker

Songbirds learn their species' sounds in the first few days and weeks of life. Occasionally there are regional variations. Some birds have a repertoire of a couple of songs while others may have many more calls and melodies. A few birds like Mockingbirds and parrots are able to imitate sounds they hear from other birds, humans or machines. I visited a patient once who had a parrot who said hello every time the phone rang. Some birds can learn another species' song if they are adopted into that bird's nest shortly after birth. But on the whole, listening is a reliable way to identify many birds. I followed the sound of a Pine Warbler and after fifteen minutes of neck-stretching searching, found it on the top of the tallest pine tree. Birds, especially the males, are often more vocal in the spring as they establish nesting territories and go through mating rituals.

Savannah Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pine Warbler, Bobolink

Like birds, humans learn language and music beginning in infancy even though words and melody activate different areas of the brain. We know that children can learn other languages without an accent if they are exposed before adulthood. I came to Canada as a school child with a strong South African accent, but it was gone in a few months. Adults hold on to an accent for life. The music styles we are exposed to when we are young tend to become our preferences for life. I do not understand eastern music with its alternate scales and tones and it would be difficult for me to learn it now. Exposure to various music styles at an early age increases our understanding and enjoyment of more genres of music as we get older.

American Goldfinch. Female Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow Warbler

Music is often at the centre of generational separation and conflict. My generation of baby boomers embraced rock and roll in the 1960's to the consternation of our parents. Rap, heavy metal, ska, and electronica appealed to our children and we didn't care for it. There are so many sub-genres of music now that our ability to sing together as a multi-generational community is greatly reduced. (country, folk and bluegrass music may be exceptions to this). My daughter and son-in-law took us to see Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the National Arts Centre this year. We commented on the white-haired patrons who made up the majority of the audience, just like the demographic of many churches.

These young siblings played classical selections skillfully at our local market last week. They will always understand and enjoy this music style. Why not expose children to a large musical heritage as their brains form musical memory;- ancient, classical, cultural, spiritual, modern and post-modern? They will explore the new sounds of their generation on their own but maybe we will have some songs we can sing together around a campfire or a concert we can enjoy together.

I am challenged when I try to understand and appreciate music forms outside of my experience. If I can learn new bird songs, surely I can learn some new music too.

Music isn't just for the birds.

Song Sparrow


  1. Great post. I,of course,love all the bird pictures and info,but also enjoyed the info about music.Have a great week.

  2. I like your title! And also enjoyed the info about music. It's nice to see little ones playing classical instruments.

    I wondered why my forsythia and lilacs bloomed almost at the same time. Was thinking it was my memory - since this is only the second year in this house and I have both bushes on my property. Now I know.

    Love all the bird pics. You do take such good shots!

  3. Nice post. Interesting thoughts and photos.

  4. Interesting observations about generational music. At least bird music is something we can all share.


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