Sounding an alarm is an important survival tactic for many birds. They usually only call out to members of their own species. But sometimes other animals overhear their calls, too.
It turns out that some animals are eavesdroppers. They’ve learned to recognize the warning calls of specific bird species, and react to them.
Read on to learn about five birds that have alarm behavior warning other animals of nearby danger.
5 Birds That Warn Other Animals Of Danger
1. Black-Capped Chickadee
Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
The red-breasted nuthatch and the black-capped chickadee have different songs. Even so, they are able to recognize each other’s signals. In fact, the nuthatch can eavesdrop on a chickadee’s calls.
Chickadees give different calls for different predators. The more “dees” at the end, the more dangerous the threat.
This alerts other chickadees but also nuthatches. They also give a warning call when they hear the chickadees. Theirs is a little different, though.
It’s not as specific as a chickadee’s call. Because they didn’t see the predator themselves, nuthatches give a more general alarm call.
They trust that the chickadees sense danger enough to put other nuthatches on alert. But they wait until they can confirm what the threat is themselves before using a more specific call.
2. Tufted Titmouse
Scientific name: Baeolophus bicolor
The tufted titmouse has a similar call to that of a chickadee. That’s not surprising, since they’re both from the same family.
And, like chickadees, tufted titmice can get specific with their calls. These similarities mean that the two species can respond to each other. When a tufted titmouse gives a warning, chickadees are likely to prepare for a threat.
They’ll even join in on mobbing a predator if a titmouse puts out the call. Other birds will join in as well, in a sort of backyard “alarm network.”
3. House Finch
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
The house finch is a very social bird and not very territorial. This may explain why they have less directional warning calls when they see a predator.
In one study, several bird species were able to direct the warning calls in a specific direction. But house finches had the least directional calls. Their alarms were much more general and widespread.
This could mean that other birds nearby are more likely to hear a house finch’s warning call and take action.
4. Blue Jay
Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
Blue jays have a reputation as being bully birds, but they’re not as mean as you might think. In fact, they can help other birds know when danger is nearby.
They have a raspy, loud call that other animals can hear far and wide. They can even imitate predators such as hawks. Blue jays will trick other birds into leaving an area so that the blue jays can access food sources.
But the imitation can be helpful to other birds as well. Blue jays will sometimes imitate hawks to let other blue jays know that one is in the area.
This advance warning also benefits other birds, since they believe the call to be a real hawk. So, by imitating the predator, blue jays are alerting all the birds in the area to danger.
5. American Robin
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
One of the most common birds in the United States, the robin has a very recognizable set of songs. This includes an alarm call they use to warn other robins of nearby predators.
Robins aren’t the only ones listening, though. Other animals, such as gray squirrels, also take note of when robins sound the alarm. These squirrels respond like how they respond to warnings of their own species.
But gray squirrels also react to a normal robin call in a similar way. This indicates that they may not know which specific robin calls mean danger. But they do know that there is sometimes danger when a robin chirps.
So, in short, the squirrels are playing it safe when it comes to robins. When they hear them call, whether in alarm or not, squirrels prepare themselves for a threat.
Most species, bird or otherwise, don’t worry too much about other species. Their communications are typically just for other members of their species.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t warn other animals of danger, though. Several animals, including other birds, eavesdrop on the calls of certain bird species.
When birds like the five above sound an alarm, they aren’t just telling their flock. They may, in fact, be telling all kinds of other animals that there’s a threat nearby.