The Loh Down On Science

Better Warbling

Hey singers: forget those pricey music lessons!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, for better range, just move to an area with extreme seasonal variation!

At least, that’s what works for North American songbirds, say Australian and U.S. researchers.

They recorded over 400 male bird songs from 44 different species. They then turned each recorded tune into a spectrogram, or sound graph. This let them analyze musical qualities, like song length and tones, visually.

When they combined that data with temperature and precipitation records? Male songbirds from places with more extreme wet and dry seasons sang jazzier songs: Lower lows, higher highs, and adjustments in loudness and tempo.

Why the more complex warble? Vegetation!

Areas with more varied climates have more rain, which means more plant growth. And that changes acoustics.

For instance, birds arriving at their breeding grounds in spring find bare trees. But then leaves begin coming in and the acoustics change. So the birds adjust their songs.

If only people in karaoke bars could do the same. Ba dump bum.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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