Getting to know the different Robin calls is definitely a most important skill if you want to identify these birds quickly and understand what they’re saying.
Robins are one of the most common birds in all North America, which makes them the ideal introduction to identification by sound.
Plus: if you understand what their calls mean, they have amazing things to say about the environment.
Unfortunately, most people never get very far with learning what their local robins are saying.
For whatever reason, the ability to quickly discern different types of calls made by birds tends to be one of the more challenging nature skills to learn.
If you invest a little bit of time & energy with me as your guide, you can very effectively learn the complete range of calls and sounds made by robins.
This will give you a huge edge in the field.
Whether you want to have a more instant way of knowing when there are robins nearby, or if you’re planning to use knowledge of robin behavior & alarms to locate predators… knowing the specific calls is essential.
So today, I’ll share 7 of the most common and useful calls made by robins.
This will give you a fun & easy way to tune in with what the robins are saying and develop your listening skills outside.
I’ll focus on the actual sounds to listen for, and pepper in some common meanings based on my own personal experience with robins and bird language.
A few quick notes about naming the calls made by robins:
I’ve given each of these calls a name simply because naming things tends to help it stick better in the memory.
Some of them are onomatopoeic in a way that makes sense to my ear. But your ears might be different, so feel free to give them names that make sense for you!
For instance, what sounds like “peak” to me, might be “teak” to you.
It really doesn’t matter what you end up calling them because the whole point is just to help you remember more easily.
Some of my names are shared by other bird people, but mostly I just use what makes sense to me. You should use whatever names make the most sense to you.
I really only call them by name when I’m journaling and I want to remember the specific sounds more clearly.
Quick note for European friends: I’ve been told that the European Blackbird, or Amsel is very similar to our American Robin. I’m curious how many of these calls apply to blackbirds as well. Let me know if any of these are familiar!
It’s very rare for me to meet someone who has knowledge of all the sounds & calls that robins make, and what they mean. So let’s remedy this situation today!
#1 The “Tut” Call
The “tut” call is an extremely common sound in north america. If you spend more than 20-30 minutes hanging out with robins, you will very likely hear this call at least once.
Tutting calls are a bit quieter than some of the other sounds made by robins, but once you hear it, this one is unmistakable.
To me it literally sounds like the robin is saying “Tut”.
This particular sound gets used in a huge variety of situations.
In most cases tut calls are just brief moments of activity. You might hear a short burst of 2-3 calls and then not much else.
I notice this sound is often a precursor to some sort of action like movement or more intense alarming.
Robins will often make this sound when they get pushed up off a feeding site by human beings or dogs, or possibly to get a better look at something off in the distance.
Pay close attention to the rhythm of this call and the length of time that it goes on for. If you notice robin tuts happening over and over for long periods of time, this very frequently is a house-cat.
In every case, this call will really help you gain much better insight to the world of robins.
#2 The “Peak” Call
The “peak” call is another extremely common sound and varies tremendously in it’s application.
A common mistake in early practitioners of bird language is to think this call is always an alarm.
Yes, the “peak” call sometimes is an alarm, but definitely not always. The most important thing to help you sort the true meaning of a call is looking at the rhythm and context.
Here’s what it sounds like:
This call often occurs as a series of brief, but intense bursts. This is typically a male-male aggression call.
If you hear it happening repeatedly and rhythmically for a long period of time, you should definitely investigate the possibility of a perched owl, or possibly a hawk.
This call also frequently happens in conjunction with tut calls.
This video has examples of a male robin making peak, tut and whinny alarm calls in response to an owl:
#3 The Robin “Whinny” Call
The Robin whinny is a fascinating call.
It’s commonly called the whinny amongst birders because it sounds a bit like a horse.
Notice this call sounds completely different from the other sounds made by robins.
But don’t let this vocal diversity fool your ear… it’s definitely a Robin!
I once observed this call being made in alarm response to a coyote moving along a game trail. The robin gave a single whinny as it flew up and perched about 15 feet in a tree to watch.
There are other times when it seems to be used for territorial purposes, or even calling out to distant companions.
The key thing with alarms is always about context. It really has less to do with the specific sounds birds make and more to do with the situation.
You can get a free taste for how to grow your bird language skills in my bird language adventure videos.
#4 The Robin Song
While not technically a call, the robin song is definitely a very common sound made by robins that everyone should know.
In many places this is one of the first sounds you’ll hear if you get outside before first light to catch the dawn chorus:
You should be aware, there are a number of other birds that have similar sounding songs, but with a bit of listening you should be able to tell them apart quite easily.
If you listen very carefully, it’s possible to hear that each robin actually sings their cycles of melodious phrasing a little bit differently from other robins.
With practice, it is possible to identify individual robins by their song.
The song tends to be used most often during the nesting season, and correlates to some extent with the nesting stage, which says a lot about their behavior.
#5 The Dog-Whistle Call/Alarm
The dog whistle is a thin, high pitched call that typically indicates the presence of aerial predators.
For some people this call can be a bit tough to hear. It does take a bit of practice to get your ears tuned in.
I’ve observed this call being used most frequently in the presence of crows, ravens, & bird eating hawks/falcons.
It’s surprisingly common once you get the hang of it, and might make you wonder about how many aerial predators you’re probably missing out there.
Please listen to the following recording with the volume low and only go louder if you can’t hear it. Be aware the high frequencies of this alarm sound can damage your ears if your volume is too high.
If you already have hearing damage, you might never hear it, though most people should be able to quite easily.
I recently heard this sound along the edge of a massive area of silence in my neighbourhood.
Further out the birds were singing and chirping away. Then in the very center of the silence I spotted a small aerial predator, possibly a merlin, flying across the road.
The zone of alarm was astoundingly HUGE.
If it weren’t for the dog-whistles from a nearby robin, and the dramatic restoration of songbird activity activity further away, I might have just thought it was a quiet evening.
This can be tricky to get tuned with but it’s super cool.
#6 The Flight Call – “Tsip”
The Tsip call is one of the easiest robin calls to miss because it’s so quiet.
If you ever get a chance to sit and watch flocks of robins feeding in a large grassy space, you will definitely hear this call.
Watch for groups of 10-20 or more robins sharing a communal feeding spot. You’ll probably notice most of them are on the grass doing the usual robin hunting pattern.
Then occasionally a passing dog or possibly nearby hawks will cause some of the flock to fly up into the trees.
Listen carefully when they fly back down to the ground and you’ll hear the tsip call announcing the movement.
As far as I can tell, this call gets used whenever a robin flies from one spot to another, typically in a relaxed way, like when going down to feed on the ground.
The tsip call is also very similar to a vocal companion call sometimes used by robins during feeding. You typically need to be quite close in order to hear it.
For a long time I thought robins didn’t even have a vocal companion call, until one day a pair was feeding very close in front of me and I heard it.
Last year I noticed it’s possible for this call to betray the approach of humans near robin territory, sometimes many minutes in advance of their arrival.
I’ll be outside when I hear this soft call and see a robin fly in from my neighbour’s yard. Then at some point within the next few minutes, my neighbour appears through the trees.
My interpretation is this isn’t exactly the result of a direct alarm, but rather that human beings are often a trigger for the decision to calmly move feeding zones.
#7 The “Squee” Call
The squee is similar to the tsip in that it’s a flight call, or sometimes made pre-flight.
To me it actually just sounds like a more intense version of the tsip call.
It often has a higher degree of intensity and can indicate situations of alarm or territoriality.
When you hear this call, watch carefully for what the robin does next…
- Does it fly to another perch?
- Does it go chase another robin?
- Does it post up in the tree tops in sentinel position?
Each of these behaviors communicates a different meaning from the same call.
This is why context is so important.
Steps for Memorizing Robin Calls
Here’s how I encourage my mentoring students to memorize the robin sounds.
There are 2 steps, and both are important for the best results.
If you leave anything out, it probably won’t stick.
- Start by listening to all the calls on repeat until they get stuck in your head.
– You can make a robin sound “mix-tape” with 3 minutes of song, followed by 3 minutes of peak calls, tut calls, tsip calls, etc.
– Keep this track on your preferred listening device and listen until the sounds are totally stuck in your head and you’re sick of listening.
– 30 minutes to 1 hour was all it took for me.
– You should spend a good week really seeping it all in if that’s what it takes
- Then go outside and actually watch robins making each of these sounds. This step is really important because now you connect the sounds with the visual appearance.
– You’ll find the live visual + audio helps to “lock it in” to your brain.
– Some calls will be easier to spot than others. It might take a lot of practice to watch a robin making the dog-whistle call.
– Binoculars can speed the process. It’s not cheating 😉
Knowing the robin calls is a big step forward to having deeper connections with birds, and using bird language to track cats, hawks, owls, eagles, weasels with alarm calls.
If you really want to master the skills of bird language, check out my online bird language course for all my best tricks and tips.
Great learning! I’m listening to them right now and getting some new perspective. Thanks Brian!
Brian Mertins says
Awesome Liz, thanks for stopping by! Hope you’re enjoying life on the farm 🙂
I don’t know if the euro version has all of these calls, but certainly the first three. The german Amsel (blackbird) sounds identical when hollering at my girlfriend’s cat….outside my open window on the grapes…every morning when I should be sleeping deeply still. 🙂
It’s out there as I speak. I’ll give a listen for the other ones, some of ones are new to me, even for american robins. No surprise, some of those don’t sound anything like typical robin chatter.
The unrelated european robin is my favorite bird over here. My housemate makes half her living painting them. They’re amazingly fearless and have a very intense, but quiet presence. My first meeting with one was when one came and sat right on the blade of my shovel when I stopped for half a minute heaping manure in ireland. Nabbing red worms.
Brian Mertins says
That’s awesome Jeff, thanks for sharing about the Amsel!
Wonderful info! I saw a robin doing the “dog whistle” call and was baffled. Next time I’ll look up!
Brian Mertins says
Yes definitely Jennifer! And when you hear it, pay attention to what the other birds are doing too.
If it’s a fast moving aerial predator like a small hawk or falcon, then you might notice other species alarming, fleeing or hiding, and that can help you narrow down the location of the alarm source.
Cool read and thanks! We have a Robin “Birdadette” that we had to raise after a windstorm this June. She’s free and being a “big girl” now but still stops by almost every day to visit and sit with us. We have heard all but the dog whistle as we are old with old ears! Lol All the others we were able to figure out what she was saying by the situations. I can say that Robins are very, very smart birds!!
Mary Griffin says
Hello Brian, I want to thank you for this amazing and concisely written article of Robin sounds. I love all birds but the Robin is my favorite, each spring here in the Midwest I anxiously wait for its arrival. This spring of 2020 they arrived very early, no doubt repeat customers as I feed tons of birds both ground feeders and perched feeders, plus I give them 1 bird baths of water. Last evening 30 minutes before dusk while I was watering my tomatoes a fledling robin showed up behind me giving me his peak call. I thought he wanted water so I set my 2 foot long hose sprayer on mist mode and held it over him, well that wasn’t it. He didn’t seem to like that. I moved from my side tomato garden to by large 20×20 garden in my in the back yard and the fledling followed me. He stood unusually close all the time. By instinct this fledgling sounded alarmed, this was before listening to your ronic call recordings, it seemed like something was wrong but I never could figure this out. I looked around for predators, and I’m pretty good at spotting them, but I didn’t see anything. As I continued to water the garden this fledgling jumped up upon my hose sprayer looked me in the eye and continued his Peak call. He was a foot away from my hand. It startled me. He continued this loud chirp for 15 seconds then jumped off. I didn’t know what to do. Could he have been abandoned? Hungry? Shortly after he jumped off my hose sprayer I watched him walk out of my back yard gate and return to a large pine tree growing opposite my tomato garden where I first met him. I worried about the little guy all night, was he hungry, scared, so this morning I watered my tomato garden again-my toatoes are probably drowning-in hopes of luring the fledgling out since I was prepared this time with a bag of meal worms. Brian what do you suppose was wrong? This fledgling followed me 150feet away from his tree and persistently chirped at me. Anything you can offer would be much appreciated. He appeared to be well fed and healthy.
Brian Mertins says
How did you identify it as a fledgling? I typically find that fledglings don’t make the peak call until after they’re past the fledgling phase. They’re usually more interested in begging for food!
Often the best way to make sense of loud alarmy type bird behavior is to pay attention to what the other birds nearby are doing. It’s tricky because you have to listen through the noise of that one loud bird to hear what else is happening nearby… Do you remember if there were any other birds outside around this time?
It is quite common for robins to go through a period of hyper-vigilance close to dusk where they seem to get very agitated and make lots of noise. Are you familiar with the robin’s hyper-vigilance activity?
We hear the #5 ‘dog alarm call’ when our ‘Resident’ Robin finally settles into her nest. The nest is just beside our patio, and has been used (and renovated) with each new family, 2x annually. We think of that sound as that of ‘childbirth’, as Momma Robin lays her eggs.
Brian Mertins says
Hi Berta, I would watch very carefully for Crows sneaking around when you hear this sound. 9 times out of 10 when I hear this call being made at nesting it’s because there are nest robbers in the area.
They can be really hard to spot because their behavior is much more quiet and sneaky compared to the usual racket Crows make. It’s an extremely common activity though…
Thanks for sharing!
Hi Brian! Thanks SO much for this informative information on Robin bird calls. I have many of them around my home and I have come to know ALL these calls. It was really exciting to realize that I recognize them all! And it was great to find out why these calls are used. During this covid lockdown, I have had plenty of opportunities to observe and listen to our bird friends because there are no airplanes flying overhead.
(I live very close to an international airport!) Thanks again for sharing your passion for birds and for communicating about them in a really engaging way.
Brian Mertins says
Thanks for sharing Sharon!
If you’re interested in a fun challenge to go even deeper, try tracking the specific locations where they make these calls in relation to the nest site.
This can reveal some great insights because it adds in a layer of spacial dynamics to help you see deeper patterns.
Wonderful information! We have a Robin who calls the “peak” call, ALL DAY LONG. This has been going on for weeks. Any ideas? Thank you!
Brian Mertins says
Does the call always happen in the same location? Like around a particular tree or bush? This sort of behavior non-stop all day long in a single location can sometimes be sign of an Owl roost.
Are you able to tell whether it’s just one Robin? Or are there multiple birds that get involved?
If the call is moving around the landscape, try paying attention to the pattern of movement… is it slowly moving along the ground? Is it darting back and forth between different areas?
What is the body language associated with the call? Is the Robin looking intently into a tree? Or watching far off into the distance?
Chris Litvak says
Last summer, we had a robin around our house making a “tut” noise throughout the day, every day and on into dusk. It is a sound I have heard parents make when they are training fledglings. Quite often babies are nearby and I can hear them trilling and twittering to the parent. The parent is a ways off and they tut to get the baby to fly a little farther or to come home because it is getting dark. These babies still have spotted vests and tendrils of fluff floating around their heads. However, I believe that the calling of this particular robin was caused by a neighborhood cat picking off an adult robin in my yard. I saw it happen before I could scare the robin or chase the cat. After that, this robin started the call and called all summer. He did not have a nest to care for and I felt sad every time I heard this lonely guy pining for his honey.
Brian Mertins says
Yes! This is an extremely common usage of the tut call. The key thing to listen for with cat alarms is the rhythm of the actual tutting sound.
When there’s a cat in the area, that sound will repeat every few seconds in an evenly spaced rhythm, and it’s very common for this repetition to continue for many hours exactly like you describe. This is distinct from other uses of the tut call that happen with different patterns.
Thanks for sharing!
Brian – this is so awesome! I’m teaching a Feldenkrais series this month learning from Robins/Thrush family with movement awareness practices. I’ll definitely mention your site in my class and this wonderful article! Great little clips of the robins – I was researching to find any clips of female voices– they don’t often vocalize other than companion calls but wondering if you have heard them or know of any recordings? There aren’t too many female birds that sing but apparently female robins sing in the fall a bit quieter than than males, but haven’t seen or heard this for sure. Take care and Keep writing and producing your cool stuff! Love, Annie
Brian Mertins says
Hi Annie! It’s so great to hear from you! I certainly have heard quiet singing from robins, but I’ll have to pay more attention to confirm whether the females do it too.
I did a quick search on Google scholar and nothing came up in the academic research, however I did find references to the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) having female songs. It’s a different family though.
I’ll keep this question in the back of my mind as I’m out watching this year and we’ll see what can be figured out. Thanks for sharing as always!
I enjoyed reading your article! Most everyone has Robin’s around and this helped me dig a little deeper into world. Introductory steps for birdwatching! I will explore the crow talk link,. Do you have similar articles for other common songbirds?
Brian Mertins says
Hi Carolyn, yes! I have other similar articles for sparrows: https://nature-mentor.com/why-sparrows-chirp/ and chickadees: https://nature-mentor.com/chickadee-calls-explained/
I will very likely continue adding more as time goes on. Glad you enjoyed!
There is a Robin that has become used to me going out my front door bec every year she lays her nest right next to it. I have Magpies in the trees and I guess they eat the eggs and their young. I must offer some sort of protection.
Sometimes the bird sees me and goes up to a branch about 4 over my head. She opens her wings just a small amount and quivers them for 1 to 2 seconds and then folds them back down. She waits 3 to 4 seconds then does it again. She might do this 5 or 6 times. Do you know what this might mean?
Brian Mertins says
Little nervous behaviors like repetitive wing quivering are extremely common around nesting because it’s such a stressful time for bird parents. It’s kind of like when people fidget or dart their eyes around when they’re stressed out. That would be my guess based on your description.
When you see this, I would recommend moving away to watch from a more comfortable distance (for the robin) and then watch what she does in the following 5-20 minutes. This will add more context to the behavior so you can see what she does without the extra stress of your proximity. I hope that helps!
We had robins nest over our bbq for last 5 years. Not sure if they are same robins every year. The few days ago, I found a pile of feathers under the nest and assumed that the raccoons that were under my deck had killed the robin at night. Yesterday I caught a black cat roaming by backyard and now I believe it was the cat that snuck up on the robin and killed it.
Coincidentally or not, two days later a robin flew into my bedroom window and died.
I was really mystify and shaken by the events .
My question is, since this happened, the robin’s mate has been chirping all day long, early in the morning and late into the night.
Is it possible that the dead robins mate is calling for the return of its mate or just singing in sorrow?
Can you make any sense of the occurrences?
Brian Mertins says
When you say the robin is chirping all day long… is it doing one of the 7 calls listed above in the article?
It’s possible the robin is alarming at that cat. Sometimes cat alarms can go on ALL day long for days at a time. It all just depends on the behavior of the cat.
Birds flying into windows is often caused by trying to escape hawks, so I would also investigate the possibility of a hawk hunting the area.