Have you ever wondered what birds are communicating with all those different sounds they make?
I’ve been intently studying the activities of birds as a naturalist and wildlife tracker for 10 years in the field.
I can tell you it’s a real joy to gather messages and distant information just by hearing what the birds have to say.
I also believe that knowledge of birds can have a tremendous impact on how people relate to their land and make choices about conservation.
Most of all… it’s a fun outdoor activity that will hone your listening and observation skills like nothing else can.
So how can you understand communication between birds?
Birds communicate both vocally and with body language about everything from food & territory to courtship and predator activity.
Some of the basics can be picked up with just a short lesson in listening to the difference between calls and songs.
That’s what I’d like to give you in this video…
Okay so I hate to break this news to you…
I know a lot of people come to this website hoping to find something like an english translation of what birds are saying.
They want to know how to talk with the robins or crows visiting their feeder in the backyard, and how to know the messages the birds bring.
So I have to explain that bird language works very differently from a language like english or german.
The good news is that if you were to talk to a bird in english, yes they can probably understand at least some of what you say.
But in truth – they wouldn’t be listening to your words.
They would be listening for the tone and emotion behind your words.
At least 90-95% of their interest in you will be related to questions like…
What state of mind is this person in?
Is this person a threat?
Is this person safe?
Birds communicate with a language of emotion.
They express feelings like fear and anger just like we do, but the syntax of bird language is really much more simple than any human language.
So let’s go a bit deeper…
The Driving Force Behind Bird Language
Why do birds communicate then?
In one simple word… Survival.
Birds communicate because it helps them survive. And any behaviour that doesn’t have direct survival benefit for them will probably just fade with time.
This also means that when you hear a bird making noise… you can be pretty certain that they’re talking about something very directly related to their survival in life.
It’s really just a handful of things that birds might choose to communicate.
“Hey, there’s food over here”
“Hey, I’m here, where are you?”
“Let’s find shelter”
“This is my turf”
“This is my woman”
These are all pretty standard “phrases” that birds might express with a song or a quiet calling back and forth(The most common being territorial and contact calls).
But perhaps one of the most interesting things that birds communicate about is predator activity.
This deserves a closer look…
Predator & Prey Interactions
If you’re someone who spends any time watching birds then this is something you’ll definitely get to see…
It’s super cool.
Songbirds are noted for having devised a very clever communication system of advanced warning about predators.
There are different types of alarm calls that are used by birds to divulge the locations of hawks, cats, owls, weasels, and any other animal that poses a threat.
This is one of the big reasons why the first step to decoding the communication between birds is learning to tell the difference between songs and calls.
We covered this in the video up above.
There are some types of sounds and calls that birds only make when their lives are not in danger. For example, we discussed that birds don’t sing when they’re alarmed about predators.
Likewise, there are specific cues you can listen for in the calls made by birds that let you know when a bird is alarming.
And here’s the cool part.
If you know the signs of alarm in birds then you can use that information to locate whatever animal is causing the danger.
Using Bird Alarm Calls For Tracking Predators
Anthropologists have observed that humans who live in nature-based societies acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge about their local environment.
This traditional knowledge goes very deep into the realm of birds and the sounds made by birds.
I have a mentor named Jon Young who talks about how the Bushmen in the Kalahari could identify the alarm calls of African lions from a very early age.
Jon’s stories about bird language have had a huge impact on me and my desire to study bird communication in more depth.
He inspired me to spend hours in the forest listening and watching the activities of birds and their relationships to cats & owls.
I found that I was able to replicate the traditional native abilities in my own backyard by hunting domestic cats with a water gun… using nothing but bird alarm calls as my tracking substrate.
I’ve used bird alarm calls to locate countless owls, hawks, bobcats, mountain lions, bears, coyotes & foxes (among other things).
It’s had a huge impact on my own personal relationship to nature. It helps me to observe deeply & stay present with a landscape. It brings me peace and happiness.
I created a series of vides that talks about reading bird alarm activity in much more depth. Get started on your bird language adventure
Why Practice Listening To Birds?
For traditional people bird language is a survival skill. It keeps them safe from large predators like lions and tigers. In the modern world I really see it as a way to activate a long-lost sensory potential hidden away in the brains of business people and school children.
Listening to birds is truly one of the best ways to go deep into nature. And it has many positive benefits for a world in the grips of nature deficit disorder.
If you’ve ever been interested in living closer to nature, or having real life ninja training – Birds are an essential part of your nature awareness toolkit!