Popular Science

How to decode the secret language of birds

Learn to translate tweets.
red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

What’s this little fuzzball saying?

A little bird once told me…well, a lot. That twittering song isn’t just the sound of relaxation, a sign of spring, or nature’s alarm clock. It’s a language that can convey valuable information to the trained ear—even when that ear belongs to a human.

With each real-world chirp, cheep, and melody, the bird is sending a potent message. It might be a male’s love poem, designed to woo a comely female, or a show of strength, warning other birds to back off. Often, that seemingly-carefree song serves as an alarm call indicating that a predator is on the prowl—or a human is lumbering down the trail ahead.

For millennia, wild critters have been listening in to these messages. And for good reason. When a robin sees a predator like a coyote, for example, it will sound the alarm—short

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