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Other Bird Sounds

Birds use sounds other than those created by their vocal chords. Sounds can be created by stamping as in Coots, or by clacking the mandibles together as in Frigate birds, Albatrosses and Storks. Birds also use their wings to create sounds, simply by clapping them together as the wood pigeon or by having modified feathers which vibrate at a set frequency when exposed. Snipe use this during courting. Two feathers on either side of the tail vibrate as the bird falls out of the sky. Other birds which make sounds with their wings include Mute Swans, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Bellbirds and the New Zealand Tui. Perhaps the best known of these percussive sounds is the drumming of woodpeckers. Each woodpecker, in those species tested, has its own drumming pattern so male and female birds can easily recognise each other while they are out foraging.

Perhaps the most unusual however is the Palm Cockatoo which makes drumsticks from twigs and beats them against a hollow log in time with a pirouette during courtship.

Several species of cave dwelling birds use echolocation similar to bats to detect objects around them in the dark. Swiftlets from S.E. Asia, also known because some of them produce the nests used in making bird-nest soup, use sounds with a frequency between 4.5 and 7.5 kHz to navigate in the caves they nest in. Oilbirds in South America also nest in caves and use sounds in a range between 1.0 and 15 kHz emitted in staccato bursts to navigate inside the cave. Unlike the Swiftlets, Oilbirds are nocturnal but they do not use their echolocation outside of the cave. The sounds both these species use are audible to the human ear and sounds caused by a flock disturbed by a human intruder into their nesting caves have lead to many tales of devils and demons. The echolocation of both these species is considerably less efficient than that of bats because the sounds are lower and therefore have longer wavelengths. This means that they cannot distinguish smaller objects. Oilbirds cannot, apparently, detect anything smaller than about 15cm diameter while Swiftlets have a lower size limit of about 6 cms diameter.

Information on this page was contributed by EarthLife.

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Last updated: 24 November 2002