Story Behind the Science
Bluebirds are commonly recognized for their beautiful coloring, as well as for their distinguished song. The bluebird is a songbird, so it belongs to a family of birds referred to as the Passerines, or Oscines, which are noted for their beautiful singing. Though many songbirds have a song (which is often specific to certain species), there are some that produce noises like coos, caws, rattles or clicks rather than complex melodic songs. Songbirds all have a special organ, called a syrinx, which allows them to make these noises and songs.
Most songbirds are susceptible to a “sensitive period,” during which they can more easily learn songs and sounds. This usually takes place at the beginning stages of life and may last several weeks. After this time, learning new sounds may become more difficult for songbirds. Over time, the song of a songbird will become louder, as well as more persistent and structured, eventually turning into the perfect melody.
Songbirds have recently faced a major decline in population that was originally thought to be the result of increased predation by birds of prey and predators that disturb their nests and eggs. After a research study was conducted, it was found that an increase in predators only resulted in the decline of a select few species of songbirds. Though the major causes have not been completely determined, there have been many factors recognized as threats to songbird populations.
One of the main threats is substantial changes in farming practices as a result of increased demand for human food production. These changes in farming practices have become more intensive, and this has had a negative impact on songbird population through the loss of breeding and nesting habitats and essential food sources. Some of the changes in farming practices include the use of pesticides and fertilizers, sowing crops during nontraditional seasons and mixed farming.
Another problem songbirds face, especially during migration, is collisions with windows, wind turbines and communication towers. Many modern homes and office buildings use aesthetically pleasing reflective glass as windows or to replace walls. Birds may have a difficult time distinguishing the sky from its reflection in a window. This mistake would then cause songbirds to collide with a window, resulting in fatal injuries during migration, or even during breeding season or in the winter.
Did You Know?
- A group of bluebirds is known as a flock.Learn More »
- Songbirds play an important role in their ecosystems by distributing seeds, pollinating plants and controlling insect populations.Learn More »
- Migratory birds, including songbirds, use the stars to navigate. They may also use the earth’s magnetic fields, the setting sun, landscape features and wind patterns.Learn More »
- Species, and sometimes age, determine how many different kinds of songs a songbird can sing. For example, the indigo bunting can only sing one song with various adaptations, whereas a brown thrasher can sing over 2,000!Learn More »
- The Eastern bluebird is the state bird for both Missouri and New York.Learn More »
- Bluebirds are a symbol of happiness.Learn More »
- Songbirds have a poor sense of smell, so they will not reject their babies if they’ve been touched by a human. Also, some songbirds will act as foster parents to other birds of the same species if they’ve been lost or abandoned.Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Bluebirds||Songbirds|
|How many species?||3||More than 4,600|
|Where do they occur?||Mainly North America, though they are also seen anywhere from Canada to Mexico and the Honduras||Songbirds can be found worldwide.|
|What do they eat?||Small fruits, insects, spiders and other small creatures||Insects, seeds, berries, nectar and fruits|
|Do they have predators?||Raccoons, cats and snakes are some of the most common predators of bluebirds.||As chicks and adult songbirds, predators include birds of prey like buzzards, sparrowhawks and kestrels. Predators of songbird nests and eggs include woodpeckers, magpies, jays, carrion crows and grey squirrels.|