Are Birds Talking When They Chirp?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Jessica Read from VIC writes:

I have recently attended a short course on bird watching. I am learning how to distinguish the different sounds different species of birds make in my area. Are the birds talking when they chirp? Or are they singing? Do they talk to us, humans?

Birds, just like all other animals communicate with each other in their universal silent language. But they live in a physical world just like us, so they do need to verbalise to communicate with each other and other bird species. They have specific calls and sounds that are a matter of survival daily. Calls for hunting for food or looking out for predators are specific calls that all birds in the flock understand. They do enjoy exploring their surroundings, particularly if it involves us humans. It is common for birds to use different sounds when they are interacting with people. They may even mimic our words or noises too. So what exactly are they saying to each other? And what are they trying to say to us?

My husband Peter & I were living in a townhouse in Sydney that backed onto a bush reserve. We had many birds visit our garden, and we did not encourage feeding them, as we did not wish to encourage wild animals to rely on human sources of food. We knew that not everyone was as friendly to wild animals as we were. Sitting in the garden one day, there was a pair of magpies that flew in & perched on the fence. They looked directly at me and I heard them say ‘Could we have some food?’ I explained why this would not be in their best interests, and the female magpie said ‘Yes we understand, but we have a baby we need to feed, and there is a lot of competition in this area with other birds for food.’ So I made a deal with this pair of magpies. I would provide food for them whilst they were still weaning their baby, and then once their baby was big enough to find food on its own, I would stop providing food. They agreed and flew off. A few minutes later, they came back, but with their baby this time. Everyday, the pair of magpies would call out to me, and I would find them on the fence. They would fly off, and bring their baby back and I would give them some food. Once the baby was strong enough to look for food on its own, I would not see the magpie pair again until the next breeding season. This ritual went on for a few years. When I had decided I was moving back to Perth, I told the Magpie pair that I would not be here next season and I could not guarantee that the next residents would be as kind to them as I was. Interestingly enough, the magpies did not bring their baby to me that year.

Would you love to communicate with wild birds?

Wild birds are fascinating to watch as they carry about their business. Being able to hear their silent language means we can listen to their conversations with their flock, with other species and also the thoughts of individual birds too. You can hear them teaching their young how to forage for food, how to watch out for other birds, and avoid predators. There is lesser natural habitat for birds to use these days, so it is common for birds to use your home as a haven to base on. As I work from home, I can observe the wildlife living in and around my home. There are several pairs of crows that live near my house. I love watching these crows get up to their business.  One afternoon, whilst sitting out on the balcony, I saw a crow fly up onto our roof and could hear scuffling around. I asked the crow what was it up to, to which I received ‘It’s none of your business’. I was surprised, but nevertheless accepted that there was secret crow business happening on my roof. A few days later, whilst sitting outside enjoying the view, I noticed some crows sitting on the roof of my neighbour’s home and I could see them dropping what looked like berries into a section of the gutter. The crows said to me they choose to store their berries in the guttering because it was the same colour as the berries. This stopped any birds flying overhead from seeing their stash and protected their food source. How ingenious is that! They have way more intelligence than we give them credit for.

Life can be pretty cutthroat for wild birds. Keeping your territory, and trying to find food for your young can be challenging when there is an overpopulation of birds in your area. You can get pushed around by other birds, especially those that breed into large numbers. They usually are the species that are not native. So how does a bird ensure they have what they need to survive? They work their surroundings, as my colleague Dana discovered in her own backyard.

Dana has a pair of Indian Miner birds living near her home. These birds would occasionally visit her backyard, have a drink and a bath in the dog’s water bowl, and nibble at his food too. Diego the dog didn’t seem to mind as he enjoyed the company of these Indian Miner birds. One morning, my colleague could hear a strange warbling sound coming from the back veranda and upon looking outside the two Indian Miner birds were perched on the balustrade staring at her. As an animal whisperer herself, she asked them is everything alright, to which they replied ‘Where is the food?’

Dana was confused, as she doesn’t encourage feeding wild birds. The Indian Miner birds telepathically showed her a scenario of herself feeding her dog a bowl of biscuits, and Diego sitting away from the bowl so the birds could come and feed on the biscuits. These birds also shared themselves flying off to explore and coming back to relay the information of the outside world to Diego. Dana realised Diego had cut a deal with these two birds – food in exchange for news about the world outside his backyard! What Dana didn’t know was she was a part of the deal. Still to this day, those birds come to eat from Diego’s food bowl, and they will alert Dana if there is no food there.

Birds truly are remarkable creatures, their intelligence and inquisitive nature makes them a formidable being to live with.

The next time you are enjoying your morning coffee or afternoon drink outside, take notice of the birds around you. You never know who is watching you, and the birds may just show you some of their secret business too![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

About the author 

Trisha Mc Cagh

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