Yellowhammer perched on a yellow flower calling

Out loud - make some noise

If flight is birds' greatest adaptation, then the noises they can make must be a close runner-up. No other animals can produce so many sounds, and for so many different purposes.

Bird noises

Birds can make noises to sound the alarm, defend their territory, advertise for a mate or simply keep in touch.

Short and simple

The simplest bird noises are calls. Newly hatched young birds make high-pitched calls to beg food from their parents. Many birds make loud alarm calls to warn of danger - just listen to a blackbird when it sees a cat. Birds in flocks make soft contact calls to stay in touch with one another, such as the honking of geese or the ‘see see’ call of tits in a treetop.

Long and complicated

Songs last longer than calls. Male birds use them during the breeding season to attract a mate and defend a territory. Some birds, such as chiffchaffs, just repeat a simple phrase over and over again. Others, such as song thrushes, have a long complicated song, which is never the same twice. Many sing from a prominent perch to make their song stand out.

Birds with rhythm

Stealing songs

Some birds pinch parts of their songs from other birds. Listen to a singing sedge warbler, and you might hear snatches that sound like a house sparrow. Some birds even imitate artificial noises. Starlings are experts at imitating telephones, while the Australian lyrebird can even do chainsaws!

Drumming

Not all birds’ voices are adapted for singing. But some have found other ways to make themselves heard. 

Woodpeckers bash their beak against a dead tree to make a short, fast burst of noise – like machine-gun fire. Snipe dive through the air to make a loud rasping noise though their vibrating tail feathers. Both these noises are known as drumming. 

Woodpigeons and nightjars even clap their wings together to attract attention during their breeding displays.