What Bird Songs Mean

By Eileen Richardson

Birds make all sorts of interesting sounds. Some have beautiful melodies other have obnoxious squawks. 

There are reasons for these sounds. Birds use these songs and calls to communicate with other birds. The reasons can even be very complex.

A few species, like turkey vultures, are almost always silent. Most birds though are chatterboxes and have several different calls.

Birds that live in flocks most of the year are especially busy with several different calls.

Black capped chickadees have at least 15 different distinct calls that they use for various situations. If their flock is foraging in treetops, they make short light “contact” calls and a louder note when the flock is ready to move on. Chickadees make various alarm calls when danger is near. Rival males have aggressive calls they use when they are about to have a showdown.

Members of a mated pairs have several noises they use to communicate with each other near the nest, and young chickadees make food begging and distress calls.

Some types of alarm calls are recognized by other bird species as well. When a mixed flock of different species is moving through a forest and one member spots a hawk, it is good that all members in the flock to recognize the alarm.

While a single note is typical, bird songs tend to be more complicated and have a very distinct purpose.

Some songs can be beautiful like that of the wood thrush, but that’s not always the case. The yellow headed blackbird has a rough nasal snarl for a song. To us the nasal snarl sound is not beautiful, but it works just as well as the melodious songs of different bird species.

It is primarily the male birds that sing, mostly in breeding season, and they use their songs to announce a territory claim.

If you see a male robin or oriole singing away, he is warning other males that this plot of ground is his and to stay off his turf. His song can also serve to attract a female or to help the male stay in touch with his mate. His main motivation for his singing is usually territorial defense.

The male is some species such as the warbler has two song types: one for chasing away other males and the other to keep in connection with his mate.

There are some species especially in the tropics, in which the males and females even sing duets.

Birds are generally born knowing how to use the right call notes by instinct, but may have to learn their songs by listening to adults of their own kind. For that reason some species such as the white crowned sparrows have "dialects" that vary from one place to another, while the calls tend to be the same within every location.

All the birds songs are part of God’s natural soundtrack. Go out and LISTEN....