Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Idle singers of empty days?

February 5th, 2011

 €œA BIRD doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song € is attributed to Maya Angelou, writer and leading American Civil Rights activist whose autobiography is called  €œI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings €.

How do you explain such a quote?   For the birds to have an answer there has to be a question which the birds understand   So, who should ask the question?   Count me out, for I've never mastered bird, or is it avian, language   The next puzzle is whether they sing from the sheer joy of being alive – just because they have a song.

Accepted wisdom has long been that birds sing to identify and defend territory, and warn off rivals of their own species   This is particularly important during mating and breeding when survival of the fittest is what assures individual birds' reproduction.

And birdsong is their language of love   Every bird has its own song which identifies it to others of the same species   It's a sort of long range vocal plumage which is heard over a wide area, particularly within the visual confines of, say, woodland – attracting potential mates and discouraging competitors.

Bird activity round the house is fairly quiet   Woodpigeons, or the more precocious ones anyway, should be chiming off in the eternal pursuit of a new season's mate   Their numbers seem down at the moment which may simply reflect the shortage of food while snow was on the ground   In which case they will be back.

This time two years ago a mistle (or should it be missel?) thrush was building its nest in a fork in a tree close to the house   I've heard the ringing tones of the mavis throstle – as my mother described it – just once this year, which I hope doesn't mean they have deserted us.

It's only in the past day or two that the greater spotted woodpeckers have started their courtship drumming, which is late compared with previous seasons   And I have yet to hear the mocking yaffle of the green variety   The buzzards have returned to the glen   Their keening, mewing cries are one of the few bird calls I find unattractive   And at night the tawny owls keep us company when the dogs and I are out for the last walk before bed.

It's probably falling into the easy trap of attributing human emotions to animals if we imagine birds sing for the pure joy of it   I suspect they are too busy feeding, breeding, fighting off competitors and just plain surviving to have time for such personal indulgence.

But out with the dogs on a spring morning, in the solitude of the woods immersed in the dawn chorus, it's easy to believe the birds do sing in praise of the joy of being alive – just because they have a song.

Written on Saturday, February 5th, 2011 at 11:22 pm for Weekly.