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.
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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.

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  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020
  • New to birding...newbie question. We spotted what we thought was a Sapsucker at our patio feeders in December. The folks at our birding supply store told us that Sapsuckers are only here in Summer months and what we saw was a Flicker. I thought I new what a Flicker was and this did not look like a Flicker. It was thinner and more smooth looking but did have the Woodpecker Bill.
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020
  • We just signed up and get your magazine via email. Will we be receiving a printed copy?Ed [email protected]
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020