Why do Birds Sing? – 10 Types of Birdsongs 

Translated by Nick R

One of the features that make birds so amazing is their ability to sing and compose beautiful melodies. Surely, you already know what kind of birds I’m talking about, but do you know what kinds of songs actually exist?

Types of bird voices 

In the world of birds, as well as humans, individuals communicate in different ways to express feelings or share information. One of these ways is through sounds, either through words or simple noises made with the beak; vocal or non-vocal respectively. The vocal sounds, we will call them: voices.

These sounds can be classified into three kinds of short voices, characterized by their single-note nature. Besides, singing that is a longer type of voice.


This is the favorite call of chicks, who seek to attract the attention of their parents by making particular calling sounds. These calls also work between couples, when the female seeks the attention of the male or vice versa. The calls are very short and repetitive sounds.

Contact calls

This type of call is used for communication and location. Birds developed this type of voice to easily contact each other in a flock, which are large social groups of birds. In contrast, to call voices, contact voices are short sounds with longer, non-consecutive pauses.

Alert calls

Alert voices, as their name indicates, function to alert in emergency situations such as the presence of a predator. These voices consist of short, consecutive sounds with a high volume, expressing concern.

Even though singing is a type of call, I’d like you to look at it in more detail…

What is birdsong? 

The singing can be defined as longer, multi-note acoustic utterances produced from the vibration of air at a certain frequency in orderly time intervals, creating music.

The birdsong is a very different voice from the rest of the voices because it has a greater complexity, composed of melody and rhythm. Like any song, it has length and intention. Singing, in general, can be related to the seasons and obey hormonal changes. That’s why many bird species use singing during the breeding season. Birds have very different ways of singing between species; in fact, among individuals of the same species, different song patterns can emerge, generating dialects (read on).

Of course, there are other non-melodious and simpler songs, which could be mistaken for calls or alerts. The difference between the song and the other short voices lies in the recognition parameters that drive its composition.

Why can birds sing? 

Birds don’t have a larynx like you or me, but a syrinx: a specialized organ that allows them to emit melodic sounds and shout. What they do share with us is their way of communicating, very similar to our language. Both melodies and screams are ways of expressing emotional responses, just as we do when we want to express our feelings or thoughts.

Although some species have songs engraved in their DNA following certain predetermined patterns, singing is not an innate trait in birds and chicks must undergo a learning process. In other words, singing is transmitted from generation to generation, a phenomenon very similar to culture, which is a characteristic attributed only to humans and other animals such as dolphins. For this reason, within the same species, different dialects are generated from one group to another.

Bird dialects evolve in a similar way to human dialects. Imagine for a moment a human group that occupies a certain territory or is part of a country with a certain language and, as you travel through several areas, you realize that this language can be spoken in different ways, with certain grammatical and phonetic particularities, which make them variants. For example, Spanish in Spain is different in different areas, and the dialect of Madrid is not the same as that of Valladolid.

Which birds can sing?


There are birds with different specialties within the various species of birds, some are able to hunt from the air, fly at high speeds or create tools; whereas, others, that belong to the suborder of the Passeriformes: Passeri, delight us with melodies intoned thanks to their incredible ability to sing, composing original and natural songs. Some of the domestic species composers of the most beautiful songs are:


Canaries (Serinus canaria domestica) are excellent singers, in fact, many dare to say that they are the best for their great reputation and beautiful melodies. These small animals, no bigger than 15cm, are one of the favorite birds of pet bird lovers, so it is very common to find them in captivity, making someone happy with their songs.

Canaries are so famous for their singing that competitions have been created exclusively for this species… Amazing, don’t you think?


European goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) are songbirds known for their beautiful and cheerful melodies. Goldfinches are native to Europe, but you can find them in other areas of the world, due to their ancient domestication and beautiful song. Along with the canary, they are one of the favorite songbirds of bird lovers.

They are a bit skittish, but in general, they adapt very well and quickly to captivity, you just have to adapt their space very well, and they can be a bit demanding.

care of pet goldfinches

What do birds sing for? 

Paradoxically, living at high altitudes becomes an advantage and a disadvantage since often the thick vegetation or other natural elements are obstacles and cut out the great vision of these animals. Therefore, not coincidentally, forest birds have developed the best song of all, turning sound into a master tool. Singing is a mechanism developed by birds for two main purposes: communication and sexuality.

Singing is communication 

The main function of the bird song is to transmit information, that is to say, it is a means of communication between individuals of a given social group or flock. The messages are encrypted in particular musical patterns that are not transferable between species; thus, each species has its own way of singing.

Singing helps them not to get lost and to keep the group united as if it were a musical geolocation system. Additionally, in some cases, it functions to announce the presence and location of an individual, for example, when it arrives at an unknown place.

Additionally, the song communicates emotions and the mood of the bird.

Singing is sexy 

When birds enter the mating season, males must devise powerful strategies to find a mate, which is not easy. Females are very picky when it comes to choosing their ideal mate. Therefore, birds evolved very ingenious skills such as dancing and singing (they do like music), to conquer females with hypnotic dances and beautiful serenades.

Sexually, singing has several functions, besides conquering the female. Also, through song, the male marks territory and the female uses it to identify herself before her mate and to warn the chicks of the arrival of their father.

Types of birdsongs 

5 Parameters for recognizing the song type 


The musicality of the song refers to the complexity and quality of its structure; how elaborate the song is. In practice, musicality consists of melodic or non-melodic songs. Simple!

Ringing tone 

This parameter has to do with the quality of the sound, i.e. what you could define by an adjective. For example, the song sounds very much like a saw, i.e. it is a metallic song. You can also define a song as bright, mixed, or nasal.


This parameter measures the level of understanding of diction, which in birds has to do with the ease of distinguishing song patterns. You can distinguish between clear or garbled.


Phrasing is a little more difficult to define, but it basically refers to the differentiation of sung phrases or shapes that take the notes in sequence, so that they sound like literally spoken songs. One can distinguish between irregular phrases, pattern phrases, or polyphase.


The pitch is a parameter related to the elevation of the sounds in the song, being acute when it is lower and low when the elevation is higher.

What types of singing are there? 

The song has intentionality and is not the same in all birds or in all situations. They can be distinguished by several characteristics. In this sense, birdsong can be classified into two types of songs: melodic and non-melodic.

Melodic songs 

Melodic songs are the most common in the world of songbirds, characterized by their complexity and musicality. The melodic song of a bird fulfills from a more complete point of view the five parameters of recognition since the musicality is usually more sophisticated. In addition, in terms of greater vocalization and phrasing, it integrates more notes, which are manifested in various pitches and tones. While the non-melodic ones are equally harmonious and joyful, but limited in musicality.

Melodic songs are diverse and have an infinite number of subtypes, depending on the combination of the five recognition parameters. Here are five subtypes of melodic chants:


It is a song with an irregular sequence that varies in time intervals with a high pitch and is not easily understandable.

Melodic-mixed-confused-irregular phrase 

Also, it is a song with an irregular sequence of several variations, a bit rushed and diffuse, and hardly understandable. Additionally, it handles changes in tone between metallic and bright, as well as changes in pitch, going from high to low and other times from low to high.

Melodic-mixed-confused-pattern phrase 

This type of singing is also not very understandable, but it shows an orderly sequence of notes. They are generally short phrases of constant intervals, which in most species go from metallic to bright.

Melodic-mixed-chorus-pattern phrase 

It’s a song very similar to the previous one, but not diffuse and easier to understand. The sequence shows interval notes arranged in a repeating pattern. Most birds manifest a predominance of a bright tone that can change to metallic, in equally changing tones.

Melodic-mixed-chorus-irregular phrasing 

Very similar to the previous one in terms of understanding, pitch, and tone. But it differs in the phrasing, which presents a sequence of discontinuous intervals.

Non-melodic songs 

Is there such a thing as non-melodic singing? Of course, there is another type of singing not necessarily melodic and its frequencies (pattern) vary in relation to the melodic ones since they tend to be shorter and composed of fewer notes. Non-melodic chants can be monochordal or bichordal (combining two chords), among which there are five main subtypes:

Strident nonmelodic 

Generally harsh and not very pleasant sounds, including shouts or the characteristic “tchirr”, “trirr”, “trrr”, “Fshrr” sound with almost always bright or metallic tones and varied durations.

Non-melodic chirping

The chirps can be short or long. This type of song is characterized as a “pio pio” picado sometimes combined with calls, repetitive, and can be solo or in a group. Pay attention to the pattern.

Non-melodic whistling 

This type of non-melodic singing is characterized by whistles of various types, low or high pitched, and with different pitches and tones. Some are nasal and deep. Pay attention to the pattern.

Non-melodic hissing 

The hissing chants are characterized by the hissing type “txitxeado” sound, such as, “shzii”, “bishs” or “tchzí”. This song can be confused with alerts, due to their speed and repetitive nature.         

Non-melodic trills 

They can be short, long, slow, or fast trilling songs (warbles), characterized by a high-pitched and prolonged sound with rapid ascending or descending changes of bright tone.

More information here.

Fun fact 

While voices and particularly songs are amazing mechanisms used by birds for communication and sexuality, birds have also developed other ways to “say things” by means of non-vocal sounds. That is, they are not emitted vocally, but, with other means to emit sounds. Some of the most common ways are:

  • Jaw clicking.
  • Tongue or beak clicks.
  • Wingbeats or flapping sounds.
  • Use of beaks or other objects as percussion instruments.

You may be interested in bird body language.

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