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.
#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.