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The amazing vocal organ found in most birds, the syrinx, has two sides, with different sets of muscles and nerves controlling each side. That lets some songbirds sing two separate melodies at the same time. The Veery, a species of Thrush, can even sing a rising melody and a falling melody simultaneously with the two halves of the syrinx!
Some Birds Have Two Voices
Written by Conor Gearin
Ariana Remmel: This is BirdNote.
[Ladysmith Black Mambazo “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes]
When two or more people sing together, they can create harmony by producing different notes at the same time. Astonishingly, many songbirds can create harmony without another bird to back them up, all on their own.
That’s thanks to the amazing vocal organ found in most birds, the syrinx. Unlike human vocal chords with just one passageway for air to travel through and create sound, a bird’s syrinx has two passageways. It’s located where the airways of the lungs meet.
Different sets of muscles and nerves control the two sides of the syrinx. That lets some songbirds, like this Veery, sing two separate melodies at the same time. At one point in the song, one melody rises while the other descends. It’s as if the bird has two voices.
While most people can only dream of sounding like a Veery, throat singing practiced by the Tuvan people of central Asia comes close. Throat singers produce just one melodic line but with multiple harmonic tones at once!
[Tuvan throat singing]
To sing two different melodies at the same time, humans just have to work together.
[Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Paul Simon “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”]
For BirdNote, I’m Ariana Remmel.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Editor: Jazzi Johnson
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Content Director: Jonese Franklin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Veery ML94386 recorded by Wil Hershberger.
Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” from Youtube (at beginning) and at end from Graceland 2012 Sony Music.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2023 BirdNote August 2023
Narrator: Ariana Remmel
ID# syrinx-02-2023-08-14 syrinx-02