Do Birds Communicate When They Make Noise?

Have you ever been playing in your backyard or a park and noticed a bird’s nest in a tree? The idea of baby birds chirping in their small nest can be too adorable to ignore. It’s only natural to be curious, right?

But as you approach the tree to get a closer look at the nest, you’re greeted by a sharp “Squawk!” That’s correct! It’s the mother bird letting you know not to come any closer.

If you take a walk through a forest, you’re also likely to hear a variety of squawks, songs, and bird calls. What’s the reason for all the noisy birds? Are they just making noise for fun? Or are they communicating?

All those bird sounds you hear are definitely forms of communication. Most birds tend to communicate vocally, although some are much more vocal than others. One of the most common forms of bird communication is a call note. In small birds, call notes may sound like chirps. In larger birds, call notes may sound like squawks.

Each species of bird uses a variety of call notes to communicate different messages. For example, one common message birds convey via call notes is to alert other birds to the presence of potential danger.

Many birds are advanced enough to customize their call notes to identify the specific type of danger at hand. For example, a bird might use a certain call note to warn of potential danger from above, such as from an airborne predator like a hawk or an owl. That same bird might use a completely different call note to warn of danger from the ground, such as from a cat.

Of course, call notes — and even songs! — can be used to communicate many other types of messages. Some examples of messages birds convey through sounds include:

  • finding, attracting, or impressing mates
  • claiming or defending territory
  • identifying family members amongst a flock
  • sharing information about food sources

Birds also communicate through behavior. For example, you may have seen peacocks dance and strut and proudly display their beautiful feathers. Were they trying to impress you? Nope! But they were probably trying to impress nearby peahens to attract a mate!

Birds who feel threatened may also flap their wings wildly or attack a perceived intruder to defend their young or territory. So the next time you approach a bird’s nest thinking you might find some cute baby birds, just be aware that their mother might do more than squawk at you!

Birds aren’t the only animals that communicate when they make noise, though! Meow! Woof! Moo! Quack! You’ve probably heard these and many other animal sounds. But what are they saying?

Prairie dogs, for example, have the ability to emit different yelping alarms to warn others about a predator. They are even known to describe the color and shape of a predator with their yelps! Other land mammals express themselves by singing, barking, howling, and growling.

What about ocean animals? Can they communicate with each other underwater? You bet! Dolphins can communicate using higher frequency whistles. Humpback whales also use repetitive sounds at different pitches to communicate with each other.

Animals have various ways of communicating with each other, not just through sounds and speech. Some animals use movement, chemicals, or changing the color pattern of their skin to convey messages. Therefore, when you see animals performing peculiar dances or making strange noises, they might actually be engaged in a conversation. What do you think they are communicating?

Give It a Try

We hope you are still discussing today’s Wonder of the Day! Explore the following activities with a friend or family member to learn more:

  • Do you always communicate using words? Or do you also use simple sounds? Consider the different ways you use simple sounds that are not words to communicate. Make a list of at least five to ten examples and share them with a friend or family member. Do any of your sounds resemble a bird squawking?
  • Take some time today to observe nature. Find a place where you can watch animals in their natural habitat. If possible, observe birds as they interact with each other. Make a list of the ways you think they communicate. Do humans communicate in similar ways? Enjoy observing nature and applying what you have learned!
  • Visit eNature’s Bird Audio page to listen to sound clips of over 500 different birds’ songs and calls! Which one is your favorite? Can you learn to identify common backyard birds by their songs and calls?

Sources of Wonder

Grade 5 Students of Tyler Run Elementary School, Powell, OH


1. Do birds communicate through squawking?

Yes, birds do communicate through squawking. Squawking is a form of vocalization that birds use to communicate a variety of messages to each other. It can be used to signal danger, establish territory, attract mates, or communicate with their offspring. Different species of birds have distinct squawks that they use for different purposes. Squawking is just one of the many ways birds communicate, along with singing, chirping, and other vocalizations.

2. Can bird squawks be understood by humans?

While humans may not fully understand the specific messages conveyed by bird squawks, some patterns can be recognized. For example, certain squawks may indicate alarm or distress, while others may signal aggression or territoriality. Additionally, some bird species can be trained to associate specific squawks with certain cues or commands, allowing humans to understand basic communication. However, the intricacies of bird squawking and the information it conveys are still largely unknown to us.

3. Do birds use squawking to talk to humans?

Birds may use squawking to communicate with humans in certain situations, but it is not their primary means of communication with us. Most commonly, birds squawk when they feel threatened or perceive danger, which can include human presence. They may also squawk to seek attention or express their needs, such as when they are hungry or want to be let out of their cage. However, it is important to note that each bird has its own unique personality and communication style, so the meaning behind their squawks can vary.

4. Can birds understand human speech when they squawk?

While birds may not fully comprehend human speech, they can sometimes associate certain words or sounds with specific actions or events. For example, if a bird is consistently exposed to a certain phrase or sound when it is fed, it may learn to associate that sound with food. Similarly, birds can mimic human speech or sounds, but they often do so without understanding the meaning behind the words. Overall, while birds can sometimes make connections between human speech and certain outcomes, their understanding is limited compared to their own complex communication systems.

5. Are there different types of squawks that birds use?

Yes, there are different types of squawks that birds use to convey different messages. Some squawks are short and sharp, indicating alarm or warning signals. Others may be long and repetitive, used to establish territory or attract mates. Some birds even have distinct squawks for specific activities, such as feeding or nesting. The specific characteristics of a bird’s squawk, such as volume, pitch, and rhythm, can also communicate additional information. Overall, the diversity of squawks allows birds to have a rich and complex communication system within their own species.

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