Why do animals make different sounds? Is it to communicate? Is it a response to an internal state? Or are both statements true?
Sounds other animals make are simpler than the sounds humans make and convey less information, but some experts believe they are much the same in origin and intent. Others feel that all animals but humans lack the ability to express abstract ideas through complex combinations of sounds.
Remember that the sound files below that are labeled long may take a half a minute or more to download.
At any rate, animals make sounds. Some of the occasions on which make sounds are:
- When danger threatens:
- When establishing or maintaining breeding or feeding territories or just seeking mates.
- When traveling with other animals in groups (bird flocks, mammal herds).
- When settling down for the night (thrushes giving snoring chirps).
- When caring for young (calling young, warning of danger).
- Distress (injured animal).
- Hunger (hunting — or begging in young animals and domestic pets. I’ve also had chickadees let me know that the bird feeder was empty. You have never truly been cussed until you’ve been cussed by a hungry chickadee.).
- Coyote (DVG) Or does this one have a different meaning?
- Conflict with other individuals (growling).
- Inadvertently, ie, wings just make noise.
- Can you think of other occasions?
Note that all of these events could be interpreted in the two different ways discussed above. First, the animals could be simply expressing their own emotional state. Second they could be communicating information to other animals.
It seems undoubted that some form of communication is occurring. Other animals respond to the calls as though gaining information from then. It makes good biological sense that the calls as responses to internal states would never have evolved unless they provided some evolutionary benefit. That benefit can come only from the occurrence of some form of communication.
The whole notion of group evolution and genetic overlap is complex and has gotten much attention, but briefly the concept is that of mutual protection from danger. The individual is more likely to pass along genetic material from participating in a mutual protection/information sharing network than would be the case were that network not operating. If we ‘agree’ to warn each other of dangerous situations, we all benefit.
The human response to touching a hot stove, whether printable or not, may have as it’s basis this type of communication.
Do animals of different species respond to each other’s calls? It depends upon the type of call. A squealing rabbit will bring dogs. A predatory bird may respond to the calls of a smaller bird — or the rabbit.
In the recent owl survey in which some of us participated, the question arose of what happens when different owl voices are played first. Great horned owls eat saw-whet owls. If the great horned owl call is given first, are saw-whet owls less likely to respond to playbacks of their own calls given a few minutes later? On the other hand, does playing back the saw-whet voice first — and increasing the likelihood of response — also make these smaller birds more vulnerable to predation from any large owls that might be in the neighborhood. This question is part of the owl study currently being conducted by
Winter flocks of feeding birds also may be of different species. It has been suggested that the notes of chickadees may be especially successful in keeping these groups together. Why are flocks beneficial? The flock means there are more individuals to seek food sources and to watch out for predators.
The calls most of us associate with birds are their songs which are mating calls. The same is true of the calls we hear from amphibians. The familiar early spring cheep of spring peepers, the quacking of wood frogs, and all the rest are intended to attract mates.
There are some questions that might be worth thinking about. Don’t expect to come up with difinitive answers; many books have been written on the various subjects and the experts still disagree.
- How did human speach evolve?
- Do animals — at least some of them truly have language?
- Is it legitimate to play recordings of an animal sound in order to get them to respond? Under what circumstances might it be most acceptable? Least acceptable?
- What questions occur to you?
If you have questions or comments, email We will try to deal with questions and comments and will post them to the discussion board of the lecture room.