Y’all know I’m currently obsessed with birds, right? Well, things just got a little more fascinating. (To me, anyway.) In response to my “For The Birds” piece in the current issue of Lowcountry Weekly, a nice reader wrote to tell me it’s probably the Carolina wren that’s been serenading me with strains of “we need you, we need you, we need you” on my morning walk for the last few years. I wrote back thanking him, but assured him that it couldn’t possibly be the Carolina wren. I told him I’d watched several YouTube videos of that particular bird, and that its song was quite different from the one I’ve been hearing.
To which my reader – who seriously knows his birds! – replied with the following information:
It turns out that Carolina wrens (like many songbirds) have a repertoire of approximately 10 – 20 songs. These wrens live here year-round, and each male/female pair maintains a territory of about 2-3 acres. Consequently a good percentage of the wrens in a given community are related and share quite a few of their songs; and then there is also the occasional newcomer who moves in from afar and sets up a new territory.
Here is where the story gets interesting: When birds sing, they are either trying to attract a mate or defending/delineating their territory. When a wren sings, its neighbor (who it’s on good terms with) will respond by singing a song that they both share, but NOT the same song the first bird sang. Responding with the exact same song is considered a threat to the first bird’s territory and you will often see a face-to-face bird confrontation when two birds sing the same song back and forth. Singing a song that none of your neighbors know immediately identifies you as a newcomer and the birds in surrounding territories may gang up and try to drive you out. So it behooves a bird to learn the songs of their neighbors and to keep track of which songs you share with whom. So if you want to keep the peace, when your neighbor sings, you respond with a song you know you both share. (But not the same song).
How fabulous is that?! The birds have got it all figured out, baby! They respect each other’s familial turf (and individuality and dialect), while still fostering a strong sense of community. While they occasionally join together to protect their shared territorial borders from outside threat, they intentionally “watch their language” in an effort to keep the peace. And they do it all through song!
Wouldn’t it be nice if we humans, the next time we found ourselves on Twitter, were to emulate our betters for whom it’s named?
And speaking of song . . . I still believe all our problems would be easily solved if Congress were a choir.