Last Updated on April 14, 2022 by Marco C.
If you have a tree near your window, you might be wondering why do birds chirp at night, keeping you (and possibly the entire neighborhood) up? This behavior is completely normal to birds, and in today’s article, we’ll be learning exactly what bird calls are, why do birds call out at night, and whether it can be stopped.
Bird Calls and Songs
In ornithology, there’s a clear difference between bird songs and bird calls. Songs are complex vocalizations that, to the human ear, seem similar to a manmade symphony or melody. Calls are simple vocalizations.
The basic difference is also seen in use – bird songs are usually longer and we see that they’re related to territorial behavior, as well as sexual behavior – wooing and mating.
Calls, on the other hand, are primarily used as alarms to tell other birds that there’s trouble incoming (usually a predator), and as a tool to keep in touch with other birds. For example, a duck will quack another duck just to keep in touch.
The most important aspect of a bird song (even though, colloquially, we all say that bird songs are actually calls) is attracting females. Males are the ones that are singing in the bird world, and their songs and the basis on which females select their partners.
Birds aren’t the only ones to do this, as this behavior is also seen in some monkey species. Some scientists speculate that the quality of birds calls might be tightly connected to the health and overall fitness of the bird, but this is yet to be proven.
If this were true, it would additionally explain why female birds are more attracted to males that sing better songs – that would mean that they’re more fit, providing them with healthier offspring.
A secondary function of a bird song is to defend territory – very similar to the way humans do it, birds negotiate over borders. Instead of fighting wars, however, birds do it through song. Similar song types between species or variations usually indicate that there’s a complex form of communication between those birds.
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Not only do birds communicate the danger of a predator to other birds via bird calls, they actually communicate it to other animals too. Many species learn to recognize bird calls and interpret them properly to their own advantage.
Interestingly, most birds have different alarms regarding different threats – a bird warning of a falcon will not sound the same as the same bird warning of a bobcat being in the area. These differences between calls are usually imperceptible to the average human.
What’s even more impressive is that birds of different species will communicate with calls. The best example of this is the Japanese tit, responding to the call of a willow tit – even though they’re two different species, they can still communicate with one another in a shared language.
It’s also possible for different individual birds of the same group to call together, this is often seen with quail, owls, and parrots. This behavior amplifies the sound.
Birds are able to have calls this specific because they hear from below 50 Hz to around 12 000 Hz – they hear infrasound. In comparison, the range of human hearing is from 20 Hz to 20 000 Hz. Now, even though their range is average, the sensitivity of sound with birds is as sensitive as 1 kHz.
This allows them to produce two very similar calls and still hear the difference between those two calls.
Why Do Birds Chirp At Night?
Almost all animals retain some sense of a daily rhythm. Some animals, like humans, prefer sleeping through the night, while other animals – like owls – prefer staying up through the night.
Owls often make sounds during the night, but they’re not the only bird species to do this.
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This is why we differ the dawn chorus from the sunlight chorus. Some birds start singing as soon as the sun strikes in the morning – other birds start singing as soon as the sun set.
The sunlight chorus doesn’t have to start at night necessarily. If you have a bird at home, dimming the lights will most likely kickstart their natural instincts and thereby start the song.
So, why do birds chirp at night? It’s usually instinct, the same way some birds chirp in the morning, other birds chirp at night. However, birds often chirp when they’re startled. If lightning strikes nearby, there’s a fire or there’s a predator in the trees, the bird will most definitely start singing.
Why are the birds singing at night?
Some species of bird sing at night the same way other bird species sing in the morning - it's just instinct. However, it often happens that birds are startled by something - lightning, fire or a predator. In those instances, birds will start calling even if they aren't nocturnal animals.
What do birds chirping symbolize?
Singing is most likely there to attract females as well as establish territory. We know that there's a difference between singing and calling - bird calls are there to alarm other birds, as well as other animals. It's a response to danger, most often coming in the form of a predator.
What bird chirps at night?
Owls are the most active nocturnal bird, but they rarely chirp. The culprit waking you up might be the nightingale, corncrake, nightjar, reed or sedge warblers. Some of these species are migratory, and we see this behavior with them more often.
Even though a bird singing and chirping can be a wonderful sound in the morning, birds chirping at night can be a nuisance, not letting you get a good night’s rest. Chirping, however, is completely natural and these animals definitely aren’t doing it to annoy you.
Chirps, if in song, are meant to attract females and deter intruders. Calls are there to alert other animals of impending dangers, as well as deter predators if possible. It’s likely that the bird waking you up is just reacting to something in its immediate environment.