The song of birds

"Cui-cui", "Rou-rou", "Ti-ti-ti-ti", the songs of birds are very diverse and beyond the pleasure of hearing them, their meaning is very varied.

Differentiating between singing and shouting

photo d'un rouge-gorge
House robin. © PierreSelim | Wikimedia


Most birds use calls to warn of danger, to call other birds, to defend their territory. Each species has a large number of calls specific to each situation.

One very special and generally easy to recognise call is the song, which is longer and more melodious than other calls. Birds sing mainly during the breeding season to attract females to breed. It is also a way for mates to recognise each other, as each individual has a unique vocal signature. Some species sing throughout the breeding cycle, while others stop when they start laying eggs or raising young. In birds, song is produced by an organ called the syrinx.

Hearing a bird sing does not necessarily mean that a nest is present. Some birds may sing without finding a mate or sing during their migratory stopover.

Apart from reproduction, singing is also a way of defining and defending one's territory. The song of some species can be heard in autumn or winter, as in the case of the Robin, which is solitary and defends its territory all year round.

Songs are characteristic of each species, so you can recognise a bird without seeing it and only by hearing it sing. The best time to listen to birds singing is in spring, so don't hesitate! Let's go outside and listen.

How to recognize a song?

To be able to recognize many bird songs, you have to be able to describe them. As soon as a bird sings, you will have to ask yourself some questions:

  • Are there stanzas, i.e. a succession of notes, and are they repeated?
  • Do they go up or down?
  • Does the sound get louder or softer during the stanza?
  • What is the timbre of the sound: clear, croaking, squeaking, ...?
  • What are the rhythms with which the notes are played?

A bird song can also be described in the alphabet with syllables like "tuit, groû, ou-roû-coû". Circumflex accents correspond to notes that are accented, but pitches and some rhythms are not indicated.

To help you learn to recognize bird songs, we offer you

this determination key


Read more

Watching a song is possible!

Humans use their vision more than their hearing, so it is possible to represent the song visually with the help of a sonogram.

Sonagramme d'un oiseau
Sonogram of a bird

On the sonogram, time is represented from left to right. As in a timeline, the elements represented on the left happened before those represented on the right. The marks represent the sounds. The darker they are, the more intense the sound. The closer the marks are to the top of the graph, the higher the sound, and when the marks are close to the bottom of the graph, the lower the sound.

Some examples of bird songs :

Improvised songs :

Some bird species sing a melody that is not repeated such as :


Stereotyped melodious songs:

Other birds sing stereotyped melodies, i.e. always the same, with repeating parts called stanzas, such as:


Uniform stereotyped songs

Finally, some species have stereotyped but unmelodious songs, such as:

Read more

Learning to recognise birdsong