Humans speak when they are happy, they speak when they are sad. They speak when they are angry, and they speak when they see a thing of beauty. They try to speak even when they have toothaches, and often they speak even when they have nothing to say. Well, songbirds are quite the same.
They sing to tell their winged neighbours and strangers that the branch on which they are sitting, or the shrub that grows next to the school, is THEIR home. Or they may sing to warn other birds that an enemy is near. During the mating season, male birds sing with great feeling because they want to attract female birds. All in all, the songs range from simple to a more complex range of sounds.
The sparrow, the parrot, the thrush, the koel and even the crows, are songbirds. Nearly half the bird population in the world consists of songbirds. There are about 4,000 species of songbirds which are grouped under various families, ranging between 35 to 55. They are called passerine birds; in other words, perching birds. Many of these songbirds are birds that are kept in cages as you may have seen. Songbirds get their ability to sing because of a highly developed and powerful vocal organ, which is called the syrinx or the song box.
Some of these birds can be very human. For example, some whistler birds cannot stand any hint of a challenge. Earlier, they would try to drown the sound of thunder with their shouts. These days they try to compete with the high-noise, high-flying aircraft.
Ornithologists say they seem to practice their songs in some kind of schools with elders guiding them along.
From the way they sing we might be tempted to think that these songbirds are bright and beautiful. But, no, these birds are often small, dull-coloured creatures. And they lead solitary lives on forest floors or open grassland. Looking at the dull appearance of the songbird, it is difficult to imagine that it could even sing!
In fact, male birds with beautifully coloured feathers do not sing; their bright plumage is enough to attract the opposite, or to give a clear signal to other birds about its claim to home and territory. Similarly, there is a reason for the dull appearance of songbirds. It helps hide them from their enemies.
The birdsongs are not always pleasing too. In fact, sometimes they are downright irritating. An American who studied the red-eyed vireo or preacher bird discovered that it made the same sound 22,197 times in a single day! As the well known Indian ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali has remarked, hearing the melodious sound of the koel can also prove hard on the ears!
Usually it is the male who sings, but sometimes the female joins if only to strengthen the bond with her mate. Family is serious business for these birds.