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It's spring where Jessi and Squeaks lives, and that means the air is filled with the sounds of birds singing! But have you ever wondered why birds sing and who they're signing to?

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Ackerman, Jennifer. The Genius of Birds.
Hi, there!

Squeaks and I were just outside, bird-watching! There are so many different kinds of birds!

Some, like the Northern Cardinal, can sing beautiful songs! Just listen. We call birds that sing like this songbirds.

Lots of birds sing for different reasons. And for songbirds like cardinals, singing is an important way for them to talk to each other. Cardinals will chirp and chitter all year long, but in the spring, they bring out their loudest and prettiest songs.

Why do they sing so much in the spring? They’re getting ready to raise their babies! Like most animals you know, cardinals are usually either a boy, called a male, or a girl, called a female.

They’re pretty easy to tell apart! Male cardinals are bright red, and female cardinals are brown. And both male and female cardinals sing, often for different reasons.

But during the spring, they both sing much more than they usually do. You see, in the springtime, cardinals are getting ready to build a nest, lay eggs, and raise little baby birds! But they can’t do it alone.

They each need to find a mate, another cardinal to help them to feed and protect their babies. A male cardinal wants to become a dad, so when spring comes around, he usually starts looking for a female mate, to have and raise babies with. He’ll start singing, and hope that a female cardinal will hear him.

But showing a female cardinal that he’ll be a good dad takes a lot of work. Female cardinals want to find a mate who is strong and smart, who can find lots of food, and who can protect their babies from other animals that might want to eat them! So the male cardinal has to show that he’s tough enough to help protect his new family.

The best way to do this? Sing loudly! By singing loudly, a male cardinal says, “Here I am!

And I’m not afraid of anything!” He knows that other cardinals can hear him, but there are also other types of animals listening too -- ones like hawks or cats, that might want to eat him! So, his loud song shows that he isn’t even afraid of getting eaten. Male cardinals will even try to sing louder than other males who might be nearby, to prove that they’re the toughest bird around.

Tough enough to be a great dad! Now, to call out to female birds, male cardinals sing a special song called a mating call. This song is different from his normal song; it’s meant just for the girl birds.

A female that’s nearby will want to see which brave male is singing this mating call, so she can decide if she wants to raise her babies with him. If she likes his song, she’ll let him fly over, and they’ll pair up for the spring! Now, it’s not just the males that sing.

Female cardinals will also sing more in the spring, too. Females learn different songs than the males, and scientists are still trying to learn what the females are saying. Maybe someday, we’ll be able to understand everything these birds are saying to each other.

Until then, we’re just lucky to get to enjoy their special springtime songs. Do you have any questions about cardinals or are you curious about some of the creatures you've seen in your own neighborhood? If so, ask a grown-up to help you leave a comment below, or send us an email at We’ll see you next time, here at the fort!