When you have a friend who loves karaoke but isn't exactly Mariah Carey, you can still be nice and say "You sing like a bird!"
Saturday's Weird Animal Question of the Week has been mulling the multiplicity of birds sounds since Elzbieta Zaba asked via Facebook, "Why do some little birds sing so beautifully and the big ones don't?"
Pretty Little Lyres
First things first: "Beauty is in the ear of the beholder," Marc Devokaitis, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says via email.
While it's true many species aren't what you'd call melodious, they still make amazing sounds. Take the "otherworldly" call of the barred owl, or the endless tunes that might come from a common raven, which has 33 types of calls in its repertoire, Devokaitis says.
That said, "small birds have the anatomy and vocal behavior that happens to sync up well with humans' perceptions of 'song,'" he says.
That anatomy is the syrinx, the bird version of our larynx.
An order of birds called Passeriformes-which make make up 60 percent of the roughly 10,000 known bird species, including songbirds-have the most complicated syrinx, according to J.V. Remsen, curator of birds at the Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Science.