Songbirds of America

What is a songbird? Are all songbirds' songs pleasant?

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Hunting Birds

Hunting with a camera that is. Birds are fascinating to watch and try to find. Let's start exploring....


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Water of Yellowstone

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Just Exactly What is a Songbird?

Adult male Hooded Warbler, which is a songbird.

An adult male Hooded Warbler is checking out the dining options. They like the forest understory. During the winter, males and females inhabit different habitats. Males are usually found in mature forests, while females are found in scrubbier forests and seasonally flooded areas.

10,000+ species of birds live in all the different habitats on the planet. The number of birds in North America is complicated, anywhere from 900+ to 2000+. That number varies depending on how you define North America. Do you include those rare birds blown off course in a storm, have broken internal GPS, or want to take an exotic vacation? Does it include Mexico, Canada, or islands in the Atlantic? The final number is optional for our discussion, but it will help you understand the volume of songbirds.

Fairy Bluebird found in forest and plantations in the tropical southern Asia and the Philippines.

Fairy Bluebirds are found in forests and plantations in tropical southern Asia and the Philippines. This image was taken at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA.

Songbirds include more than 4,000 bird species in the world.

A songbird is a suborder of the order Passeriformes, which includes over half of all the bird species worldwide. Passeriformes are birds that perch. Perching birds have a distinct toe arrangement to grasp and hold onto branches. Their feet have no web and are comprised of 4 toes. Three toes point forward, and the very strong fourth toe, hallux, points backward. Perching bird's hallux has a special adaptation that allows the leg muscles to tighten when they start losing their grasp on their perch. So yes, perching birds can sleep on their feet while perched. The Passeriform order is divided into three subgroups:

  • Acanthisitti - 3 species of New Zealand wrens
  • Tyranni - over 1,000 species of tropical birds found mainly in South America - are born knowing their songs
  • Passeri - over 4,000 species - these are you songbirds - learn songs by listening to other birds of their species

Passeri bird suborder includes all songbirds. Passeri suborder is also referred to as oscines. Identifying as a songbird isn't a signal that humans will find all their songs pleasing; not all songbirds are good at singing, as we would call it. What makes a songbird, then, if not the quality of their song. That would be their precise control of a highly specialized vocal organ called the syrinx. A complex set of muscles surrounding the syrinx gives songbirds the control to make their songs. Songbirds' exhalation causes muscles inside the syrinx that control a series of membranes to vibrate. As the air flows over these membranes, they vibrate to create a specific song.

As noted above, songbirds learn their songs from listening to other birds. This starts in the nest as the kids listen to their parents.

Summer Tanager male.

The Summer Tanager catches and eats flying and non-flying insects, though it is a specialist at catching bees and wasps. It will beat the insect to death on a limb and then remove the stinger before consuming it.

Male House Sparrow is one of the most common songbirds in the USA.

Male House Sparrow is one of the most common songbirds in the USA.

The House Sparrow is one of the most common songbirds in the US. It can be found everywhere, often hunting food in parking lots or perched on a building nearby. Sometimes, it will even visit you inside the large box stores.

If you have ever wondered about birdsongs, watch this short, fascinating 3-minute YouTube video. Trust me, you will appreciate the experience.

Question: What is the largest songbird in the world? Answer: The Common Raven! To read more about the Common Raven, check out this page.

Yellow Warbler singing out his heart for love.

The Yellow Warbler has a specific call that warns others that Brown-headed Cowbirds are in the area. Brown-headed Cowbirds are notorious nest parasites for both warblers and blackbirds. Other birds have learned the sound and will rush back to protect their nest. Female Yellow Warblers are good at recognizing foreign eggs in their nest. They will build a new nest on top of the old nest and eggs and start over.

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