Song Sparrows Use Sound to Communicate With One Another

Though female Song Sparrows have been heard singing, nearly always, as with most other bird species, it's the male who sings. If you'd like to hear a male Song Sparrow singing and your computer can handle .WAV files, click here.

Here are the two main reasons male Song Sparrows sing:

  1. to attract a mate
  2. to announce to other male Song Sparrows that the territory the song is being sung from is "taken," and that other male Song Sparrows should stay away

Many insects, frogs, and other creatures also sing to attract mates, and some higher animals, particularly mammals, sing to "defend territories."

The typical Song Sparrow song begins with a series of many liquid notes, sweet sweet sweet... , then resolves into a trill that drops in pitch. This is very different from, say, the song of the closely related and similar Swamp Sparrow, which is simply a slow trill of similar notes. If you become a good birder, you'll eventually find yourself "bird listening" more than "bird watching," since you'll be able to identify each species by sound much easier than by spotting each bird. Many frogs and insects can also be identified by their "song" or "call."

When Song Sparrow songs are recorded and analyzed, it's discovered that each individual male adult bird performs from about six to over twenty different melodies. All the melodies are obviously Song Sparrow songs, but each is slightly different from the others -- they are slight variations on a basic Song-Sparrow theme. Some songs may be very short, consisting of only four notes and lasting less than two seconds, but others may consist of twenty or more notes, lasting over five seconds. Typically a bird sings the very same song a half dozen times or so, then takes up a variation.

If a male Song Sparrow is singing as he defends his territory and another male comes too close, the defender makes a zhee-call to warn of possible attack. Right before the bird's nesting season ends and it must return south before winter arrives, it issues a low, slow warble that sounds melancholy to human ears. When males and females move about together, they issue short, soft tsip-calls, possibly to help them stay together.

In general, the more highly evolved an animal, the more flexible its calling or singing. Insect calls are typically extremely predictable and monotonous; coyote calls, however, have nuances that seem to tell stories...

Return to Life Cycle Index Page