Outdoors: Countersinging birds

Jun 30, 2020

I love antiphonal music! 

The ethereal back and forth of double choirs in European cathedrals. The African American call and response form in jazz and gospel music.  And my personal  favorite: several brass choirs  stationed around the sides of Kresge Auditorium echoing back and forth through the hall and into the mall.

The dawn chorus at Interlochen is rather like antiphonal music. Birds take turns singing.   

When  male bird sings in the morning, he  may be proclaiming his territory or eagerness to mate. Or he may be announcing to the neighbors that he made it through the night. 

To birds, this is important information, and it's information that must be heard clearly. If they all sang at once,  their messages would be muddled.

So, as strange as this may seem, a male bird will avoid singing while a nearby male sings.

In fact, male birds actually engage in exchanges called counter-singing.  One bird will start, and the follower will repeat. When the leader changes a pattern, so does the follower.

Countersinging involves birds of the same species, but even birds of different species take turns. Otherwise, it would be cacophony. 

It is important proclaim a message, but, sometimes,  it is just as important to listen.