Why Zebra Finches Sing

I’m determined to read David Rothenberg’s Why Birds Sing soon – I’ve have had the book for years but have put off reading it, probably because I was dismayed by the idea that he had written and published about playing music with birds before I did, even though it appears we both started the playing for the birds about the same time. Not only am I a slow reader, I don’t have much time to read lately, but I’m eager to see how and if he answers the question. So far I have read only his preface, which muses about predictable answers.

Do I have an answer to the question? Not entirely, but I can surmise why Zebra Finches sing, at least in my house, as I’ve mused about this for years. The zebra finch males tend to sing – and I’m talking about their little individual songs, as opposed to any calls or other proclamations they might utter – an awful lot more than any of the other birds, even including Ferdinand, my Society Finch, who sings quite a bit.

First of all, there seems to be a protocol for soloists in general: you don’t sing until the other Zebra Finch is done with his song. The only time I can remember this rule being broken was when Fernando and his son Adolfo sang duets in the kitchen.

Of course the males start out perfecting a song to sing to females so as to attract them. But there are all those other occasions, which usually seem to simply announce one’s presence or one’s intention to do a particular thing. Maybe it could be simplified into a territorial proclamation; there are little territorial wars going on in the house from time to time, but generally it seems just more proclamatory – I’m here, and I’m announcing myself, and I’m feeling good about it.

Here’s a little clip of Beniamino singing against a background of noisy budgies and Bach’s C Minor Partita. When he first started singing his song it sounded like “boom-shoka-laka-laka” to me and I used to dance around the house to it, which he hated. That could be why now he has refined his song down to “ta-ta, tata, I’m Beniamino.”


Leave a Reply