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American Robin
Dictionary
of Songs and Sounds

"Zeeeeup!" Peek!" "Tut, tut, tut!" What do robins mean when they make these sounds? Robins produce several vocalizations. The six listed below are the most commonly heard, and the most well-studied at this time. Listen to each distinct vocalization and learn what it means.

All Recordings Courtesy of Lang Elliott Nature Sound Studios.

Dictionary Cards
Typical Song (Listen! ) Dawn Song (Listen! )

Description of Vocalization:
A melodic, whistled song, it sounds like a long sentence composed of words mostly of 3 syllables, with pauses in between.

Context and Meaning:

  • Given by males to declare territory. Hearing this song makes other males' heart rates increase; they are stressed enough to space themselves. "Keep off! This is MY territory!"
  • At the same time that the song warns away other males, it entices females near. Hey, sweetie! Check out MY yard! Wouldn't this be a great place to raise babies? Wouldn't I make a great father to your babies?"

Description of Vocalization:
Excited, more rapid and continuous version of Typical Song. Do some of the 3-syllable words sound like "cheerio" to your ear?

Context and Meaning:

  • Given by males at first light, and sometimes while it's still very dark. "I can't sleep I'm so excited about this cool territory that is all mine! But if you're a male, you better keep away! Of course, if you're a female, come on over!"
Peek and Tut (Listen! ) Whinny Call (Listen! )

Description of Vocalization:
Two or three sharp "Peek!" calls alternating with softer "Tut" calls

Context and Meaning:

  • Given by males and females, especially during the nesting season. This is a low-grade alarm call, given when potential, but unlikely, predators have been spotted. "Hey--check out that person! He probably doesn't mean any harm, but you never know."

Description of Vocalization:
Excited sound which reminds some ornithologists of a horse whinnying

Context and Meaning:

  • Given by males and females in higher level alarm situations. Other robins often fly in when they hear this, to help mob a predator like a cat or a Blue Jay. "Hey! Danger!"
High Seeeeee Call (Listen! ) Zeeeeup! Call (Listen! )

Description of Vocalization:
Very high-pitched "seeeeeee."

Context and Meaning:

  • Given by males and females. This is a high-grade alarm call, usually given when a hawk is flying overhead. "Everybody! Watch out! Here comes a hawk!."

Most bird vocalizations are intended only for birds within a species. But all small songbirds species know the high seeeeeee call. When other birds hear this, they often freeze in position, sometimes for many minutes. If a species doesn't have or make this call themselves, at the very least they know what it means. It is to the benefit of the little victim birds that they all know the sound or make it, because it warns every little bird in the neighborhood that potential danger is near.

Description of Vocalization:
Excited, buzzy and chattering sounds.

Context and Meaning:

  • Given by males and females, sometimes in feeding groups, sometimes during migration flights. This is probably a contact call. "Aren't these berries delicious? What a great day. Off we go into the wild blue yonder."

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