how birds communicate with each other

Many years ago I began studying birds to better understand what messages they might be sending around the forest.

After much study and personal research, I’ve discovered there are some pretty fascinating things to know about what birds are saying.

Birds communicate with vocal sounds like songs, companion calls & alarm calls as well as with visual cues like body language & behavior.

These messages are used by birds to find mates, keep track of friends & family, to locate food, stay safe from predators, and defend territories from rival birds.

Many people struggle to learn bird language because there are so many different calls, sounds & behaviors to memorize.

So today I’d like to share some easy ways you can start to understand bird communication and interpret their messages whenever you step outside.

If you follow the steps on this page, you will gain some amazing new perspective on how birds communicate (and it’s great fun to know what they’re saying!)

Why do birds communicate?

For a variety of purposes, birds use sound to communicate with one another and with their flock. These purposes include announcing the presence of a predator, scolding intruders of the same or different species, claiming territory, begging for food, calling their chicks or mate, and many more.

Because sound can travel farther than birds can see, it is an excellent means of communication for birds. Under the correct circumstances, sounds can occasionally travel more than a mile or even several miles. Additionally, if you’re a bird living in a thicket, using your voice to communicate with your mate or other flock members can be helpful.

Given that birds frequently have extremely sharp eyes, it is not surprising that visual displays are a part of bird communication. Consider the male red-winged blackbirds. Their bodies are deep black, as are their wings, heads, eyes, tails, and those amazing red and yellow wing patches. When these birds are on full display, their striking contrast of red and yellow against black makes them visually stunning to behold. The males’ brilliant wing patches, which they flash while singing, enhance the messages they are conveying. The birds attempt to convey that they are marking this area of the cattail marsh as their territory by using both gestures simultaneously.

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how birds communicate with each other

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The displays dont go unnoticed by the females either. For the most part, females of most bird species have duller colors than males. When selecting a mate, females pay close attention to a man’s appearance in addition to his song because they are highly critical of men’s appearances.

You may wonder why a male bird’s genes are healthier the healthier and more impressive his feathers are. Females want to mate with only the best males. He can father her chicks if he can sing well and has beautiful plumage.

Not only do visual displays highlight a bird’s feathers, but they also highlight its use of them. Consider a male peacocks beautiful tail. His gorgeous tail is not enough to attract the attention of females; he must show it off frequently each day. The blue grouse in the aforementioned picture is similar.

While some birds primarily use sound or visual displays for communication, most use a combination of the two.

how birds communicate with each other

Bird Calls vs Songs

Practice listening for the fundamental differences between the sound qualities of calls and songs. This is one of the best ways to begin hearing what birds have to say.

There is a clear audible distinction that allows bird sounds to be divided into two significant groups.

You need to be able to distinguish between these two sounds in order to start categorizing bird sounds and making sense of all that complicated noise if you want to learn how birds communicate.

Watch this video I made with examples to hear exactly what I mean when I explain the obvious distinction between calls and songs:

It’s critical to understand that the distinction between calls and songs is a fundamental aspect of songbird communication worldwide.

Since the differences are unrelated to any specific species, you can determine which message is being conveyed without having to be an expert bird identification expert.

(Of course, knowing how to identify birds is still a very helpful skill when it comes to understanding bird language; you can read more about this in other articles.)

It’s crucial to start out slowly when learning bird sounds so as not to strain your ears.

You’ll be prepared to advance to more complex bird language understanding once your accuracy in recognizing calls and songs is high; this will be covered in the section on alarm communication.

It is crucial to associate the sounds made by birds with visual forms of communication, such as body language, as you get more adept at listening to their conversations in the forest.

So let’s discuss those next…

Observing birds’ body language can teach you a great deal about their communication patterns, in addition to the sounds they make.

Typical illustrations of visual displays that aid in conveying a bird’s message include:

  • Tail flipping
  • Chasing & hiding in the bushes
  • Beak rubbing against branches
  • Waving the wings excitedly
  • Head bobbing
  • Flight speed & trajectory
  • Maintenance of personal space
  • Overall emotional state

Look more closely if you notice any instances of body language in birds so you can try to figure out what’s making the bird behave that way.

Tail-flipping and beak-rubbing are frequent examples of repetitive body motions that indicate alertness and draw other birds’ attention when they are nearby.

These motions may also be a nervous reaction that indicates the bird’s emotional state when it is putting on a show.

As you become skilled at interpreting the nuances of bird body language, you’ll find that every move a bird makes is a means of expressing its innermost emotions.

Depending on how the bird flies and its body language, even its particular flight pattern can convey a message.

For example:

A bird’s body language differs greatly when it takes off and leaves the area with a sudden burst of wings compared to when it flies slowly up to a low perch for a better view.

This is what psychologists refer to as non-verbal communication, and it’s even more crucial in birds than in people.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that body language gives behavior context, so let’s examine how body language and bird behavior relate to one another.

What Do Birds Say To Each Other?

Always keep in mind that birds communicate for survival, as this is one of the most crucial keys to understanding what they are saying.

As a result, you can be sure that when you hear birds talking, they are discussing matters that are vital to life, such as food, mating, and territory.

As a result of this information, we are better able to understand what birds are saying because there are very few possible topics for bird communication.

Here are some instances of typical bird messages that have a direct bearing on survival:

  • Food “Hey, there’s food over here”
  • Courtship “Hey ladies, I’m here, where are you?”
  • Territory “This is my turf” “Stay away from my female!”
  • Companion Calls “I’m still here. Are you still here?”
  • Alarm Calls “HAWK!” “Here comes the cat!”

These are all fairly common “phrases” that, depending on the circumstance, birds may use to communicate through song, soft back-and-forth calling, or loud reprimands.

All we need to do is match the bird sounds with the corresponding bird behavior to identify which specific message is truly being conveyed.

To do this, we need precise examples that enable us to contrast and compare the actual sounds made by various birds communicating different messages.

So let’s examine two of the most prevalent instances of bird communication in more detail.

FAQ

Do birds know what each other are saying?

Different types of birds may understand what each other are saying. Birdsong is more like music, rather than a true language. Birds sing to attract mates and defend territories, and the information contained in the song is basically just “Listen to my song, isn’t it pretty?” or “Keep out, this area belongs to me!”

Can birds tell each other apart?

Birds recognize each other by their voices or calls. They can identify mates, parents or offspring by voice, much as a blind person might do. During courtship and pair formation, birds learn to recognize their mate by ‘voice’ characteristics, and not by visual appearance.”

When birds chirp are they communicating with each other?

They are important methods for birds to communicate with one another. The cries of birds can be classified into two types, i.e. “chirping” and “singing”. Birds’ chirping is rather simple but it means a lot. Birds chirp to indicate danger, warning and communication.