Male birds still are singing at Crossroads at Big Creek. That may seem rather odd because for most species, the breeding season should be winding down. But Crossroads is an educational preserve, and birds now are involved in educating their young.
Because “birds of a feather” sing the same songs, most people assume that the ability to sing is inherited. Apparently, though, both male and females must learn the characteristic songs of their species. And they learn the songs from their fathers.
When she matures, a female bird will choose a mate that sounds exactly like her daddy. When she hears the familiar song she learned in the nest, she selects a healthy mate of the right species.
Male birds need to learn their father’s songs in order to attract mates. There is a sensitive period of several weeks during which this song learning takes place. Depending on species, an infant birds starts memorizing the song a week or two after hatching. Some species have several sensitive periods during which the specific notes, rhythm and timbre get imprinted in the bird brain.
Then the practice period begins. The young birds start singing what is called “the subsong.” Ornithologists compare this to a human baby babbling. The bird may sing the right notes in the wrong order, or perhaps reproduce the shape and rhythm of the song, but sing the wrong pitches.
During winter, a weird thing happens. As young male repeatedly practice his song, it somehow comes closer and closer to the remembered template of the father’s song until it matches and crystalizes.
Researchers tell us that the crystallization of the characteristic male song coincides with or perhaps is stimulated by the production of testosterone in the spring. But however it works, when breeding season arrives, the young male sings the correct song.
Humans learn to talk and sing by listening to their parents, and Pamela Parks must have listened very carefully to her father singing country and gospel music. She can sing just like him. In fact, they have become a popular performing duo–Parks and Phillips. Sunday, August 17 at 2:00 the Door County Historical Society will host Parks and Phillips singing ‘Ol Time Gospel’ in The Chapel in the Heritage Village at Big Creek. This is one of the most popular programs of the season, so come early to secure a good seat.
Speaking of the Door County Historical Society’s Heritage Village, work has begun on a new building….the Hand Tool Museum. Last week a multi-generational group of volunteers peeled the logs, using, of course, hand tools.