Despite their bold behavior, brightly colored feathers, and loud vocalizations, many North American songbirds are still prey for larger animals. These predators can range from mammals like cats, to large birds like hawks, and even snakes. As a result, many birds have developed ways to alert each other of threats. This article takes a look at 5 species of birds that warn each other, as well as other animals, about danger.
5 Birds That Warn Other Animals Of Danger
1. Blue Jays
Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
Blue Jays have a loud and raucous call that’s anything but relaxing. This unmistakable, slightly metallic vocalization is usually heard in the mornings when jays claim a territory full of acorns for their own. It’s also common throughout the day when they spot hawks, snakes, or even raccoons.
A Blue Jay never passes up an opportunity to announce something to its surroundings. Many smaller songbirds use them as security monitors; if the Blue Jay calls, there is danger present.
Not one to pass up an opportunity to do a little scaring of their own, Blue Jays are very capable of imitating a Red-shouldered Hawk’s scream. This species of hawk is a predator to many songbirds. Blue Jays may imitate it in order to warn other Blue Jays to watch out. But they may also use this call to trick other birds and scare them away from a food source they want to dominate.
Look for Blue Jays in the Eastern United States and in the Great Plains. Some live in southern Canada as well. They will visit backyard feeders, and peanuts either shelled or in the shell are a favorite.
2. American Crow
Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
The American Crow is part of the family Corvidae, a group of passerines that are extremely intelligent. Not only will related crows stick together in loosely-related family units, but they will also travel in pairs, work together, and create tools to achieve their goals of finding food or things they want. This extends to avoiding danger too.
If you live in an area with crows, you’ve probably heard the ‘caw’ they make, as it applies to most situations where they need to vocalize. Like Blue Jays, crows will mob hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey to stop them from hunting in their territory. They chase these raptors out of the area and force them to leave.
Interestingly, crows are one species that will work together to steal food from would-be predators. Scientists have witnessed them distracting otters by pecking one’s tail in order to take the fish it was eating.
Crows don’t visit feeders, but they can be spotted nearly everywhere in the lower 48 states and even in Alaska. Some have been seen in Hawaii as well! If you’re really interested in bringing them to your yard, try making a compost pile or leaving out peanuts.
3. Dark-eyed Junco
Scientific name: Junco hyemalis
Along with being great announcers of forest comings and goings, Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most common birds in all of North America. These ground-foraging birds always have an eye out for danger.
This sparrow spends the spring and summer months in Canada, then migrates into the United States and Northern Mexico for the winter. Some populations live year round in the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, and the Northeast.
In one study conducted at UC Davis, scientists found that juncos can ‘tweet’ out of the corner of their bills, so that the call was effectively aimed at a predator hiding or lying in wait. Tweeting directly at a predator may seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually masterful.
When a Dark-eyed Junco calls at a predator, it tells the predator that he’s been found out, and his hiding place is no longer effective. It also serves to warn all other species in the area about the predator.
Attract Dark-eyed Juncos to your yard by offering millet, either in a feeder or directly on the ground.
4. American Robin
Scientific name: Turdus migratorius
American Robins are some of the most common birds in the lower 48 states. However, their range extends far beyond just the United States. These versatile birds breed throughout all of Canada, winter in Mexico and Florida, and spend the rest of the year in the space in between.
They’re ubiquitous in suburban neighborhoods, urban parks, and anywhere with patches of grass or weeds to forage in. That’s why they might be one of the first birds that comes to mind when you think ‘early waring call.’
Robins only chirp to warn other robins. However, their chirps act as indicators to other birds and animals that there may be danger present. When a robin chirps an alarm call, other animals take notice and often hide.
Interestingly, a robin’s alarm call is not very audible to humans. Naturalists describe the vocalization as a ‘seet-seet’ sound. This indicates to other birds that there is a predator nearby, such as a cat or hawk.
Robins usually make this call from inside a bush, tangle of underbrush, or canopy of a tree. This way, they’re hidden from the predator’s view.
5. Black-capped Chickadee
Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
If you’ve heard the chick-a-dee-dee-dee call of a Black-capped Chickadee before, it’s easy to see how such a buzzing call can be used as an alarm to birds and other prey animals. Black-capped Chickadees use a special code in their calls. The more syllables of “dee” in the call, the more dangerous the threat.
These birds are some of the smallest North American songbirds and they often travel in groups. Their tiny bodies are no match for their spunky personalities. They aren’t afraid to taunt and tease a predator, which, for them, could be another bird like a Blue Jay.
They might fly and flit aggressively around the intruder to their territory, letting the invading jay know that he is not welcome. This is called ‘mobbing.’ When it’s done, the many vocalizations from the chickadees usually warn other animals to hide until the threat has passed.
Look for Black-capped Chickadees in the northern half of the United States. They are easily attracted to feeders with seed or suet.