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Our Backyard Birds: Are Bird Songs and Bird Calls the Same Thing? Find Out Now!

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A Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) sings from a tree branch
Singing Prothonotary Warbler

Our Backyard Birds:

Are Birdsongs and Birdcalls the Same Thing?


When you hear that cheery "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" in your backyard, you instantly recognize the sound as that of a chickadee. This makes you not only a birdwatcher but also a bird listener!

Birds can make a variety of sounds. You may recognize the caw of a crow, the screech of a Red-tailed Hawk, or the chirp of a chickadee. But what's the difference between a bird song and a bird call, you ask? Let's find out.

Bird Songs and bird calls are both ways for birds to communicate. Scientists have put bird vocalizations into two main groups because birds use calls and songs at different times and for different purposes.  Let's look at bird songs first.

Bird Songs

Bird songs serve three purposes, attracting a mate, claiming or protecting territory, and bonding with family. They are generally longer and more complex than calls. Songs are most commonly heard during the spring months. Earlier, it was presumed that male songbirds were the primary singers, but scientists now understand that many females also sing. The Northern Cardinal is a good example of a female bird that is extremely vocal. Birds that sing songs mostly inhabit dense areas or areas of low visibility, such as forests, dense scrubland, or areas with tall grass. Birds that live in open areas such as lakes do not have as much need for songs because they are more easily seen.  That’s why you’ve never heard a singing duck or heron!

Bird Calls

A bird call, on the other hand, is much more flexible in its usage. Many bird calls are short notes or phrases that birds use to convey everyday concepts. Such as “Danger is near,” or “Follow me!”

While feeding, mother birds use short chirps to keep track of their young. They constantly chirp "Where are you?" and "Here I am!" to avoid getting separated.

Birds use calls not only to warn others of danger but also to differentiate between different predators. Chickadees have a flexible "chick-a-dee-dee" call which they use to communicate danger. Some experts suggest that the number of "dee" notes in the call increases according to the level of danger posed by the predator.

A male Red-winged blackbird sings a song from a fence post.
Sing A Little Song

Singing is a behavior unto itself, while calls are usually just going with other behaviors.  Since birds lack a good sense of smell, they rely primarily on their vision and hearing, making their calls and songs crucial for communication and survival. 

As a birder, it's important to remember that birdwatching is not just about watching them. You also need to develop the skill of bird listening as it can provide you with valuable information that adds another level to your observations. Paying attention to bird sounds, such as their calls and songs, can help you identify and locate your backyard birds.

A male Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) sings from the stalk of a flower
Singing Indigo Bunting

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning the differences between a bird song and a bird call If this is your first time visiting my website or reading one of my blog posts, welcome, and thank you for joining us. Please subscribe here so you can receive updates on the next blog posts on Backyard Birding. You will also receive occasional discounts and newsletters. Remember to follow the Nature First and Leave No Trace principles and always strive to leave places better than you found them. Please share this blog post with your friends and family who have a love for birds, bird photography, or backyard birding.


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Ann Sodeman North
Ann Sodeman North

I enjoyed this. Thanks for the information.

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