Communication and Signalling in the Language of Birds

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Scientific research has revealed that throughout the living world, communication is just as important as it is to human beings. Countless living things lack the capacity for human speech, yet they employ entirely different methods in order to communicate with each other—and even with other species. Some of the most dramatic examples of this is displayed by birds.

All forms of life on Earth have been created with miraculous properties and astonishing abilities. The examination of just one single species is enough to reveal hundreds of proofs of Allah’s magnificent creation.

In one verse of the Qur’an, Allah reveals that:

There is no creature crawling on the earth or flying creature, flying on its wings, who are not communities just like yourselves—We have not omitted anything from the Book—then they will be gathered to their Lord. (Qur’an, 6: 38)

The birds to which this verse draws our attention notice are one of the living communities that we need to examine and reflect upon.

There are roughly some 10,000 species of bird in the world, each of which possesses its own miraculous features. Wherever you may live, you can see a great number of these feathered creatures and can observe different and extraordinary properties in each and every one. With their attractive appearances, flawless flight mechanisms, expertise on the routes and timing of migrations, ability to build nests and altruistic behavior toward their young and to one another, birds possess countless proofs of the fact of creation. Their ability to communicate is another of these.

Birds' Sense of Hearing

For birds to display their talents in communicating by sound, song—and in the case of some birds, words— they require excellent hearing. At critical times in their lives, their sense of hearing becomes particularly important. Experiments have shown that in order for birds to learn the distinctive song of their own species, they need an auditory feedback system. Thanks to this system, young birds learn to compare the sounds they produce themselves with the patterns of a song they have memorized. If they were deaf, it wouldn't normally be possible for them to sing recognizable songs.

Birds' ears are well equipped for hearing, but they hear in a different way from us. For them to recognize a tune, they have to hear it in always the same octave (a series of seven notes), whereas we humans can recognize a tune even if we hear it in a different octave. Birds cannot, but can instead recognize timbre—a fundamental note combined with harmonies. The ability to recognize timbre and harmonic variations lets birds hear and reply to many diverse sounds, and sometimes even reproduce them.

Birds can also hear shorter notes than we can. Humans process sounds in bytes in about 1/20th of a second, whereas birds can distinguish these sounds in 1/200th of a second. This means that birds are superior at differentiating sounds that arrive in very rapid succession. In other words, a bird's capacity to perceive sound is approximately ten times greater than ours; and in every note heard by a human, it can hear ten. Moreover, some birds are also able to hear lower-frequency sounds than we are. Their hearing sensitivity is so finely tuned that they can even tell the difference between pieces by such famous composers as Bach and Stravinsky.

Birds' extremely sensitive hearing functions perfectly. Clearly, each of this sense's components is created by special system, for if any one failed to work properly, the bird would not be able to hear any sounds at all.

Bird Sounds Are Not Haphazard

Usually, birdsong is not composed of randomly produced sounds. Songs are exceptionally diverse melodies of specific meaning, sung for a purpose, and are much more complex than the calls used for signaling. They are generally used by males to advertise and defend a territory, or in courtship. It is also believed that songs serve a social function. When a pair is building their nest, they also establish communication by song. Experiments on caged birds have also demonstrated that birds find it easier to learn songs if another bird is present, but out of sight, in another cage.

Male and female songbirds have different brain structures, particularly in the regions related to sound production. With many songbird species, the males can sing, but the females cannot. The males use "song" to call their mates or designate a tree, pole, or electrical cable as a place to perch. Each species sings a song with its own characteristics, but any given species' songs display variations according to age, sex, particular time of year, and geographical location-appropriate for the environment in which they live. For example, birds that live in meadows use "songs of flight." Similarly, ones that live in the dense foliage of rain forests or reed thickets have loud voices to compensate for reduced visibility.


2011-01-27 10:54:04

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