This page will introduce you to a basic understanding of what bird language is and what you can do with it.
I also write about how you can start learning in your own neighborhood.
And I made a video you can watch where I share a story that illustrates bird language in action. Enjoy!
What is Bird Language?
Bird Language is the inter-species communication that birds use to stay in contact with a flock, find mates, protect their territories & stay aware while they do all the things that need to do in order to survive.
Birds use a huge variety of calls, songs and body language to communicate with both birds of their own species & also birds of other species.
By learning to interpret the diversity of calls, songs and body language, we can learn a lot about what’s happening in nature.
If you get really good at understanding what the birds are saying through their communications you can even rely on the bird language to understand how and when predators and other large animals are moving through the landscape.
What Kinds of Animals Can You Locate Using Bird Language?
Almost any animal larger than a mouse can and will cause bird alarms, however predatory animals are much more likely to merit attention from the birds.
Hawks, owls, wild (and domestic) cats, weasels, and members of the canine family will all elicit an alarmed response from the birds when they move through a landscape.
Animals that steal eggs or baby birds from nests will frequently get the most intense responses although only at certain times of year when the birds are nesting.
Some examples of nest robbers include raccoons, possums and members of the Corvid family (Jays, Crows and Ravens)
To a lesser degree… anything that even so much as startles the birds will cause some sort of response that is detectable by the astute listener at a distance.
Animals that are of no threat to birds like deer & rabbits will accidentally cause alarms when they are escaping their own predators.
Do Birds Alarm At People?
Yes! Even though people normally pose no threat to birds, if you’re not careful when in their territories you’ll still cause a lot of disturbance by invading their space.
It’s scary for a little bird to be approached by a large creature and all the added noise & distraction makes them an easier target for hawks when people are around.
If they don’t understanding our intentions they will fly off & make their alarm calls.
Anyone within earshot of those alarms could read the shape & dynamics of the avian response & know that there’s a person over there.
Birds in the city are more used to people and are much more comfortable with having people close to them. Birds like pigeons, house sparrows, & starlings learn what normal human behavior is in the city so it doesn’t bother them so much.
In the country & wilderness areas it takes a lot more subtlety, care & awareness to move through a bird’s territory with out alarming it, though it can still be done.
Do Animals Know Bird Language Too?
Animals survive & stay hidden by paying close attention to their surroundings.
They need to have some sort of advanced warning to get away from the predators.
Prey animals like deer & rabbits will learn to listen for the tell-tale alarms of danger and it will impact their decisions about how to avoid detection.
The converse to this is that a few years ago I was once watching a barred owl get mobbed by some robins in a forest when all of a sudden a Coopers Hawk showed up out of nowhere and made a play for one of the robins.
I think the Coopers Hawk heard the alarms & saw an opportunity to use the distraction of the owl to try and catch a meal.
So predators listen to bird language too.
How is Bird Language Useful?
I use bird language for two primary reasons.
The first is that it’s a lot easier to get close to wildlife when you have a way of knowing where they are. I love observing nature & I owe almost all of my successful animal encounters to my ability to interpret bird alarms.
I also know there are people who use bird language to become better hunters.
If you know how to reduce or eliminate your presence in the forest and how to detect the location of animals… you’ll have much better success as a hunter.
It takes the randomness out of sitting in a tree stand all day.
With this awareness you have a lot more options as a hunter whether you’re hunting with a rifle, or a bow or a camera.
How Can I Learn This Skill?
Bird language is a challenging skill to learn without a good mentor to guide you.
The basic process can be undertaken alone and with enough practice you can develop some real skill with this.
The key is to adopt a place out in nature where you go to sit every day and observe the birds. Choose a spot that is close to where you live & go there as often as you can.
As you pay attention to the birds over the course of a year you’ll notice that the birds act differently in different seasons.
These differences will be further characterized by other subtle and not so subtle shifts in behavior that are linked to the movements of predatory animals.
To learn the language of the birds there are 5 basic categories or ways of breaking down their vocalizations that help us understand what they’re saying.
When you learn to recognize the five voices of the birds, you’ll be able to use that awareness to make deeper inferences about what is happening behind the scenes.