Program Information — Series 3 & 4
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Bird Tongues

Our big, muscular tongues are absolutely crucial to our speech and singing, not to mention manipulating and tasting food. But for most birds, their tongues, supported by a tongue bone and a whole apparatus of other bones and cartilege, aren't mostly about communicating.

The shape of their tongues is hugely various, depending on how the bird uses its tongue. The tongues of pelicans and kingfishers who scoop and swallow their food whole are small and almost useless, while the woodpecker's barbed tongue, with its spearlike tongue bone, can extend up to 4 times the length of its beak to snag insects from deep under the bark of a tree. Hummingbirds may have the most delicate and flexible tongues: long hollow tubes that fork at the end into two curled troughs, slipping in and out of a nectar source many times a second. Birds that need to able to manipulate seeds or fruits in their mouths, on the other hand, tend to have well-padded tongues with blunt tongue bones.

But if bird tongues can help them manipulate their food, they're not about tasting it. Birds have very few taste buds (a chicken has only 24, parrots a couple hundred, compared to our 10,000 and 100,000 in a catfish), and those they have tend not to be on tongue like ours but elsewhere in the mouth.

Chris Tenney recorded the hermit thrush in the Sierra Nevadas, the Anna's hummingbird in the Los Padres Nat'l Forest, and the California towhee at Pebble Beach. the recording of the Anna's hummingbird with wing hum can be found on the Peterson's Field Guides CD collection Western Bird Songs from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The recording of the belted kingfisher is from the CD collection Bird Songs of California from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Series 3
Egg Calls
Chick ID Calls
Chicken Calls
Vocal Tract
Syrinx Styles
Airway Model
Airway Overtones
Coiled Trachea
Beak & Airway
Vowels & Airway
Tuvan Throat Singing

Series 4
Size & Sound
Forest Soundscape
Grassland Soundscape
Bird Hearing
Local Dialects
Regional Dialects
Drumming - Woodpeckers Etc.
Bird Tongues
Bird Brains & Singing
Song Duels?
Dawn Chorus
Finale: Song Sparrow