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.

What do you think? Tell us!

comments powered by Disqus

New On This Site

The Latest Comments

  • That doesn't address my concern about the bird houses. I'm on a tiny piece of property (40x100) so there's not much room to plant a heck of a lot or places birds could put nests once the bird houses are gone.
    by Linda DiPierro, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Plant some native plants in your yard that will attract pollinators and produce berries and nuts. There should be a local society that has a list of recommended plants, shrubs, and trees.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Same concerns here. See above post. For your situation I would consider planting a few native plants that will naturally produce berries and seeds that the birds in your area need to survive. Try planting some that will yield foods for all seasons.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • I've thought about this myself. One thing I considered doing is leaving behind some bird food and a gift card to my local wild bird store with a note asking the new homeowners to please continue feeding the birds. Don't know how well that work but it's worth a try.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • thanks for the article. I believe that I may have spotted my first hairy woodpecker this morning. we see the downy woodpecker often. it's small. the hairy woodpecker, when compared with the downy, is HUGE. also, the downy feeds at the feeder like most birds--standing upright. This bird, because of its size, hung from the feeder perch with most of it's body below the feeder--like the red belly woodpeckers that we see often. we live is strasburg va. is it possible that we saw a hairy woodpecker this morning?
    by PEretired, Sat, 23 May 2020