Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Search challenge (Mar 9, 2011): Can birds sing more than one note at a time?

Why do birds sing? 

Great question, but not one we'll tackle today.  

Instead, I'm curious about HOW birds sing.  The variety and complexity of birdsong is amazing and hugely diverse.  Listen to these YouTube samples... 

Western meadowlark

Lyre bird (imitating other birds)

But what I'm really interested in is much simpler mechanics... Can a single bird sing two notes at once?  

Rapid switching back and forth between two different notes is NOT the same thing.  I'm curious if (and how) a bird could sing in harmony with itself!  

Any ideas? 

Search on!


  1. A quick Google search on [bird "two notes at once"] brings me to Wikipedia page on “Bird vocalization” and from there to a Wikipedia page on the avian vocal organ (called the syrinx)
    Another hit learned me that the syrinx is called “voice box”

    A Google Book search on ["voice boxes" birds] came up with a book with the title “The singing life of birds: the art and science of listening to birdsongs” with a lot of information on this mechanism.

    The use of two voices is called polyphony ( ) and in this flash animation you can see how it works: from:

  2. Wow.
    So birds can actually sing two notes at once. In fact, not just two notes—some throat singers can produce as many as four...

  3. Too easy! I found an answer in 10 seconds by the first search I thought of: googling double syrinx. Of course, I know already that birds produce sounds with a syrinx, and it might have taken me longer without that knowledge.