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Mating Calls and other Bird Songs/Calls explained

Updated on June 9, 2016

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For the meanings of bird parts which you do not understand in this Hub, see my bird glossary.

If what you want is not in there, please let me know so that I can add it into the glossary.

Hawk harassed by Northern Mockingbird

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) being attacked by a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), Lemon Grove, California, USA.
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) being attacked by a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), Lemon Grove, California, USA. | Source

Caracara and mockingbird

Southern Caracara & Chalk-browed Mockingbird
Southern Caracara & Chalk-browed Mockingbird | Source


While bird songs are related mostly with protecting the zone or area and the breeding cycle, calls help birds interact about their diets and their hunters and with other members of their flock. Songs are elaborate and melodious; calls are basically brief non-melodious squeaks, chirps, squeals and chips. (Not in that order.)

Speaking of protecting its zone, the Northern Mockingbird is a good protector of its home. I have heard of different sized birds [even small birds] chasing cats, dogs, people - including eagles! They chase just about anything, and then chase it for miles away from the nest before they turn to fly back home.* They want to make sure that the nest and family is safe from the predator. I have not heard of it yet, but I would not be surprised if they would chase a car too!!

*I have seen this myself! The other day I looked out of the window and I watched as a crow was 'strolling' along about the middle of the road. A mockingbird - probably the one which lives in my front yard - was flying along with the crow, moving from side to side of the road. The mockingbird would land on a nearby bush or mailbox and dive at the crow and make nasty sounds as it passed over.

Mating calls:

Mating calls are usually made by birds that cannot sing but there are even birds which sing that still have mating calls. One of them being the White-breasted Nuthatch. Another, which amazed me, was the Black-capped Chickadee. I had an idea that I was in the know with all of the sounds (songs) which it made but I was astonished when I heard the mating call since I had never perceived that sound before. The Carolina Wren is another on the list. I know that one sings because I have also paid attention to it plus heard it.

Mobbing example

Crows mobbing a red-tailed hawk.
Crows mobbing a red-tailed hawk. | Source
A great kiskadee (right) mobs a hawk.
A great kiskadee (right) mobs a hawk. | Source

Small roost but they can be larger other places


Calls of warning:

Distress calls are broadcast every now and then when a predator, such as an owl or a hawk, a cat or any other stalker, takes hold of a bird of prey. The bird that is taken makes the distress calls. The loud squeals that the birds engage in may serve to confuse the predator long enough to release them to allow the bird to fly to freedom. Distress calls also draw in other songbirds, which may start mobbing the predator. When distress calls are heard by parent birds coming from other birds, the parents often answer reckless to the breed giving the call.

Alarm calls are given by both young and adult birds when they detect a predator. When a bird captured by a predator wails its distress call, the birds that noticed the event give agitated chip-and-squeak alarm calls. Similar calls are related in many land birds, making it easy for them to share advice about predators. These calls are usually brief and cover a broad area for their tone of sound, which is not too easy when searching out the birds. Often, there are not only the worked up chips and squeaks, a few birds give a "what for" hiss sound that draws in other birds, which may begin to crowd the predator.

I have heard Blue Jays chasing off a single crow, or multiple crows, those are alarm calls which are likely to happen. I have not seen them do this but they are also trying to mob the crow(s) no doubt.

Rally calls are sent out by a flock member after the group is scattered by a predator. Northern Bobwhites live in coveys of about 20 birds. When tormented by a predator, they spread by running and flying everywhere, but the covey can instantly reorganize when one of the birds transmits the rally call (ka-loi-kee?-ka-loi-kee?) or (koi-lee-koi-lee), a beckoning that the predator is no longer in the area.

A noisy roost:

Flock calls help to preserve structure in large bird troops. Case in point: throughout the nonbreeding term, several million blackbirds may go into hibernation in a solitary habitat that is extremely large. The loudness in such roosts almost wakes the dead but they most likely help to keep personal space around a small territory of a branch. The arguing noises help to refresh the memory of the nearby residents to honor each bird's perching zone. In a way that is very similar. Shorebirds make high-pitched fluttering sounds as they absorb food in ample amounts on beaches and mud flats. These sounds suggest to other shorebirds to keep out of a reserved personal dining space.

Calls on the wing:

Flight calls are sharp chips given while birds are in the course of travel to their autumn or spring habitats. These calls are likely between night wanderers primarily such as warblers (as their seep or zeet notes) and thrushes. Despite the fact that numerous ducks and geese also send flight calls. These calls are given by flock members in the midst of groups on their voyages every 6 months. They most likely help birds to stay in touch with their nearby friends while in flight and may reduce the chance of injuries with other birds of the flock which they are closest to.

Bird calls contacts dog

Other calls:

Contact calls - When I first wrote this I said that I did not know much about contact calls but was still learning more. Well I have learned more about these calls. It seems that the contact calls are used mainly for birds to keep in touch. The thing is that birds can use them when they are in the air, when they are eating, or simply going about their day to day chores.

Some birds even use them while they are migrating (such as geese). Ex: the flight call above. Pet birds, since they are not with other birds, even use them with their owners. (See top right call.)

You may hear an alarm call every now and then, normally as you get close to a nest - especially with young in it. Threat calls - as you will often hear at a feeder - are not heard in the wild very often. Begging calls, usually heard from females in courtship or from young ones, generally have a whining aspect and are distinct betwixt breeds. They are good to identify birds but are only heard for a few weeks.

American Robin mating call

Family awareness

Identifying with offspring allows mated birds to balance their breeding routine. It also permits young birds to recall their parents' voices, which tips them off to feedings and dangers from stalkers. Paired Northern Ravens use distinct calls to beckon their mates - a style comparable to our use of names. Such calls are seemingly rare among birds, and only definite comparisons can extract such communication.

Identifying with offspring is also important between parents and their young. When gulls arrive back at the nest with food for their young, they give a specific call that alerts the parents' own young to come forth for the feeding. Wood Duck chicks learn their mothers voice before they come out of the egg.

Did you hear a call?

Do you know what bird made it or what it meant?

See results

Author: Kevin - ©2013

© 2013 The Examiner-1


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