Mar 11, 2020 | Featured Web Article

Why Do Birds Sing?

During spring and summer, meadowlarks are commonly found in grasslands, meadows, and praries. Males are often found singing from a prominent perch.
Share:

You don't need to be an avid birder to notice that birds make a wide variety of sounds. Some of these sounds are gentle and pleasant, like the beautiful phrasing of a newly arrived wood thrush in spring. Other sounds can be jarring and annoying, at least to a nonbirder, such as the loud mechanical imitations of a northern mockingbird on a summer night.

But why do they do it? Birds are not singing and squawking merely for our enjoyment (or annoyance). Songbirds vocalize to communicate. Their sounds can be divided into two main categories: songs and calls.

A bird's song is the more musical, complicated sound. In most species only the male sings, and he's singing for two primary reasons: to attract a female and to warn other males to keep off his turf. Birdsong is related directly to courtship, breeding, and territoriality; this is why we hear birds singing in spring and summer, and not so much in fall and winter. Some species will sing from a hidden place in a thicket, but most male birds seek a prominent perch from which to proclaim their songs. Some males sing around the clock during breeding season. It's those spring hormones that are mostly to blame for your neighborhood mockingbird's nocturnal concerts.

A bird's call is usually a short chip, whistle, trill, twitter, or chirp. This is how birds communicate in an everyday sense. Males and females, adults and immature birds call throughout the year. Calls are used by birds to keep contact among the members of a flock or family group, to warn off predators, to signal food, and in a variety of other ways.

Compared with songs, bird calls can be somewhat harder to learn, as calls are less musical, shorter, and generally less memorable than songs. But mastering bird calls is possible, and, with practice, can greatly enhance your field identification skills, especially in fall and winter.

Some bird species rely on nonvocal sounds to communicate their courtship and territorial messages. Examples of nonvocal bird sounds include woodcocks and mourning doves with whistling wings, and woodpeckers drumming on hollow trees.

About Kyle Carlsen

Kyle Carlsen was an assistant editor for Bird Watcher's Digest. When not writing about birds, he divides his time between backpacking, traveling, and composing piano music. He's also a self-described coffee addict.


New On This Site

The Latest Comments

  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021