Why Do Birds Sing?

Bird Singing
A couple of days ago I was visiting at a home in a tree-lined street in Edmonton, Alberta. When I woke up at about 2:00 AM, as I often do, I could hear a bird singing. It didn’t just chirp then shut up. It warbled for at least two hours; that’s when I fell back to sleep.

It’s not an unpleasant noise, and I can’t say it kept me awake because I’m often awake in the night, but it got me wondering why birds sing. This particular bird would occasionally stop, and a few minutes later I would hear it in a tree further from my window. Then it would come back.

Perhaps there were two or three birds in different trees engaged in some call-and-response ritual, like the ones people have in southern Baptist churches. It may have been a sort of bird worship. It sounded to me, though, like the same bird in different trees. I like to think it was policing the neighbourhood, keeping us all safe from enemy birds.

I suppose it could have been establishing territory, but why would it sing so much if that were the case? Wouldn’t it just make noise to ward off interlopers rather than keeping up a steady stream of song?
It could have been a mating call, given that it is spring, but if I were a potential bird-mate I would really be turned off by the incessant noise. I’d say to myself “That bird is going to nag me to death” and stay the heck away. I like my quiet time. Even if I found the call attractive, I’d think that the caller would respect the fact that most of us—birds and people—are asleep at night. I mean, really! Who wants to be flirted with at 2:00 AM. … Never mind. Don’t answer that.

Google has so far been unhelpful in solving the riddle of why birds sing at night except to say that some are nocturnal. Well, gee whiz. Thanks a lot. I did find some good resources for identifying bird songs, though. What I heard may have been a mockingbird, but I suspect Edmonton is too far north for that species. Next time I visit, I think I’ll record the sound and see if I can at least find out which bird is so relentlessly cheerful in the wee small hours. Then I’ll try to find it a mate to keep it quiet.


Image source: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-jxIeBEf_0Z4/TW-N68-UMFI/AAAAAAAACdk/TMH6T7xOIk4/s1600/bird-singing.jpg


  1. When we had our house (for almost 40 years), we had a mockingbird who visited regularly this time of year and sang all night. I looked forward to its songs, silly me, and always felt a bit sad when the bird moved off elsewhere leaving a silent night. Thanks for that memory jogging, Anne!

  2. You are welcome, Mary Beth. The family I stayed with say they no longer notice the sounds of the birds, so I think our brains must have ways to filter out noises we know to be familiar and/or non-threatening.

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