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science

What Kind of Music Is Bird Song?

Composers from Vivaldi to Beethoven have been inspired by birdsong. But how similar is birdsong to the music we create? Two recent studies offer contrasting answers. One analysis used nearly 250 song examples of the Nightingale Wren, pictured here, a tropical bird widely admired for its haunting... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  music, science, vocalization

Jays Identify Good Nuts by Shaking Them

Some birds stash unopened seeds for use later. But how do they know which seeds are worth the trouble, before expending the energy to open them? A team of scientists from South Korea and Poland may have an answer. As part of a series of experiments, the scientists observed the behavior of Mexican... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology, science

How Birds Stay Cool

On a hot summer’s day, watch a bird such as a crow — or this Purple Martin — very carefully. You’ll never see them sweat, because birds don’t have sweat glands. So how do they keep cool? One way is panting. As the bird breathes rapidly, heat is carried out of its body through the lungs and air... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science

A Childhood Love of Birds

Gordon Orians, a writer and science advisor for BirdNote, reflects on how he developed an appreciation of birds and science during his youth. “I think I always had some sort of attraction to birds, and then I started going out bird watching with my dad,” he says. By the time Gordon was in high... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology, reflection, science

Turkey Vultures and Gas Pipelines

Do vultures detect carrion by sight or by smell? The lightbulb moment came to ornithologist Kenneth Stager when a Union Oil employee told him of vultures congregating at the spots along pipelines where gas leaks were occurring. Why would they do that? Because a key ingredient in the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology, science

Robins Are Very Choosy Nesters

When scientists looked at climate data for more than 8,500 robins’ nests in the US, they found that robins will nest only if the mean noon temperature is between 45 and 65 degrees. But even more critical is relative humidity: it needs to be around 50 percent in the middle of the day. What’s so... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  backyard sanctuary, ecology, nesting, science

Oxpeckers and Mutualism

Nature shows set in Africa often show rhinos and other large mammals with small birds on their backs. They're oxpeckers — like the Yellow-billed Oxpecker pictured here. This relationship was long held up as a textbook example of mutualism. Oxpeckers feed almost exclusively on whatever they find... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, science

Birds' Sense of Taste

Even though it’s been known for many years that birds spit out caterpillars they find repellent, little research has been devoted to birds’ sense of taste. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a scientist found taste buds on the inside of a duck’s bill — more than 400 of them. An experiment with... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science

Great Tits Learn Via Social Networks

Many years ago in the United Kingdom, milk was delivered in bottles with foil caps. But birds of several species learned how to peck through the foil to get at the cream. How did they do it? To find out, investigators recently conducted a series of experiments involving Great Tits. Males were... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science

Singer's Brain Changes with the Seasons

In higher animals, the brain is like a BMW — amazing engineering, but expensive to run. In a human, the brain uses about 10 times more energy than other organs. A bird's system is exquisitely attuned to this expense. Several species, including Black-capped Chickadees, have adapted in a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science, vocalization

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