Why do birds sing? Because they’re all on drugs

Name: Jazz.

Age: Much older than you think.

Appearance: Small, feathery, fond of worms.

Sorry, I’m not good at jazz lingo. What does “feathery” mean? It means “covered in feathers, like a bird”.

Oh, it’s a metaphor. No, it’s a real-life description. Jazz is feathery like a bird, because birds invented jazz.

That sounds incorrect. Tell that to the biologist Lauren Riters from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has determined that birds have two types of song, purposeful ones, such as those designed to attract a mate, and those they sing for pleasure. And when they sing for pleasure, it sounds like jazz.

No it doesn’t. Yes it does. “When they’re practising, they try out different songs,” says Riters. “They order and reorder and repeat song sequences, they add and drop notes. It sounds a bit like free-form jazz.”

But free-form jazz is horrible. Guess what? Birdsong is also horrible. What Riters is describing is basically the dawn chorus. You know, the thing that has woken you up before sunrise every morning since about April.

Actually, what has woken me before sunrise every morning since about April is a crushing sense of uncertainty about the future of humanity. Suit yourself.

So why do birds make those noises? The same reason humans make those noises: opioids!

Really? Yes really. Singing for the fun of it produces an opioid in the birds’ brains, and the opioid makes the birds feel good. Humans are capable of producing their own endogenous opioids, too.

How exactly did the scientists figure this out? They gave fentanyl to some starlings.

Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that’s a hundred times more powerful than morphine? That’s right. And guess what? As soon as they were given it, the starlings started to sing their beaks off.

You don’t say. And don’t forget that several jazz big-hitters were also addicted to heroin. Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Fats Navarro, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday. All were unknowingly chasing the same high as birds.

This is fascinating. Isn’t it? It is just lucky that birds don’t produce an opioid that makes them sound like James Blunt.

Just think, if birds ordered their songs differently, there might be no jazz. I know. And if there wasn’t any jazz, there wouldn’t be any La La Land. Another solid gold reason to hate all birds.

I wonder if any other animals like jazz. Do horses neigh in the style of jazz? No, horses only like Reggaeton. Everybody knows that.

Do say: “Opioids make people and birds enjoy jazz music.”

Don’t say: “And this is exactly why drugs are bad.”


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