To make their beautiful songs and calls, birds have different sound-making anatomy than people. Humans have a larynx at the top of our windpipe. Birds use a different organ, called the syrinx. Naturalist Kenn Kaufman and Dallas Taylor of the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz explain.
BirdNote® and Twenty Thousand Hertz
Written by Dallas Taylor and Mark Bramhill
DT: This is BirdNote.
DT: To make their beautiful songs and calls, birds have different sound-making anatomy than people. We humans have a larynx at the top of our windpipe. But birds use a different organ, called the syrinx. Here’s naturalist Kenn Kaufman to explain.
KK: It's at the base of the windpipe where it connects to the lungs. And at that point the windpipe, divides into two. So each half has its own set of muscles.
DT: And because they have this two-part system, birds are able to do something really special.
KK:: The two parts of the syrinx can actually operate independently, so a bird literally can sing two notes at once. There's a bird in New Zealand called the kokako. You can really hear the two notes being sung at once, [SFX: Kokako songs] and it's beautiful. It sounds like someone's improvising on an organ back in the forest, just slowly doing these notes, these little trills, and grace notes, and chords. And then every once in a while, it'll throw in this weird, odd sort of squawk or ugly noise just so we know it's actually a bird.
DT: Today’s episode is an excerpt from the podcast I host. It’s called Twenty Thousand Hertz, and it’s a show about the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds. We just ran a whole episode on birdsong, and if you like BirdNote, it’s bound to be a hoot. You can find it wherever you listen to podcasts. Just search for “Twenty Thousand Hertz,” all spelled out. I’m Dallas Taylor.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill
Narrator: Dallas Taylor
BirdNote’s theme composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. ML 94416 WOTH recorded by W Hershberger; ML 136062 Kokako recorded by M Medler.
© 2019 BirdNote May 2019
ID# sound-23-2019-05-21 sound-23