Why do birds sing?
A song sparrow with a personality has recently made our front yard its territory. The bird seems to intentionally serenade us as it stands guard on the overhead wires. With a trilly song, it heralds our arrivals to and departures from the house.
This sparrow has also begun a love (or hate?) affair with our Jeep’s side mirror. It will sit on top of the mirror and then scoot down to look at its reflection, back and forth. When the Jeep is gone, our other car’s mirror attracts the bird’s attention instead. The sparrow’s preference, however, is definitely the Jeep; the abundance of “white stuff” coating the top and sides of the Jeep’s mirror is proof positive. This has been going on for almost two weeks.
These antics are cute and entertaining, but I started to wonder what was actually going on with this sparrow. Are his tweets a welcoming song, or was this bird threatening us to keep our distance? Is the car mirror a newfound friend, or is it an avian enemy to be chased away? Is the sparrow’s song a joyful, sweet symphony, or a warning message to a potential foe?
When I had a parakeet, we mounted a small mirror in the bird’s cage to keep it company. Perhaps our sparrow’s reflection in the car mirror is perceived as a friend or a potential mate to be won over. On the other hand, maybe all the commotion is because the sparrow feels threatened by an imaginary rival in the mirror.
I began searching online to find out reasons why birds sing. The All About Birds website states that birds may sing to attract a mate and to defend their territory. Male birds seem to sing one way to attract a female, but sing in a different, aggressive manner toward male competition, according to a study referenced on the UCSB website. An ASU Biology post mentions that birds sing as a form of communication with other birds. For example, there is a specific bird call to declare sources of food and another to warn about nearby predators.
Many people have problems with birds banging into the windows of their home, over and over again. While some of this is accidental, often a bird sees its own reflection in a window and thinks another bird is infringing on its territory. Although our sparrow’s reaction to its reflection in the car mirror didn’t appear like an aggressive behavior to me, it could have been having the same type of territorial response. I also found out that interactions between a bird and a car mirror aren’t unique to our situation. There are plenty of videos on YouTube about birds attacking car mirrors! (This video in particular made me chuckle.)
Since we don’t know if our sparrow is a boy or a girl and we aren’t experts in song sparrow body language or vocalizations, there’s no way to determine what is really going on in our front yard. I’d like to believe that the song sparrow is serenading us as a result of overflowing birdy joy, but the verdict is inconclusive. Our car’s mirror, and my family, may be the song sparrow’s friend (or foe), but we’ll never know for sure.