Common Misconceptions to Watch Out For
- Bird species only make one type of sound or only have one song and one call. This misconception is often what can make learning the sounds that birds make so difficult. Almost all species of bird have more than one vocalization and some have repertoires into the thousands.
- All individuals in a species will sound the same. Not all young birds copy songs from a tutor. Some invent their own songs according to the typical pattern of their species. In species that learn from tutors, some young birds typically end up with slightly different versions than their tutors sang. When birds breeding in a particular area sound similar to each other but different from members of the same species elsewhere, they are said to have a regional dialect.
- Watch out for mimics. There are a few species of bird that will mimic other bird’s songs and calls and others who will copy only part of another’s song and include it in their own repertoire.
- All bird sounds are innate. Some bird sounds innate, meaning that birds can produce them without ever having heard them before. The ability to produce innate sounds is inborn and genetically controlled. Some bird sounds are learned, meaning that in order to produce them properly, a young bird must hear them from an adult tutor of the same species. Tutors do not actively “teach”; instead, young birds learn by listening from a distance. The tutors are often the neighboring males on a young bird’s first summer territory. As far as we know, the only North American birds that can learn sounds are the hummingbirds, the parrots, and the passerines (excluding the flycatchers). Even in these groups, many sounds are innate.