Why Do Birds Sing in Fall?

by Brodie Cass Talbott, Educator & Trips Specialist

A few irritated notes alerted us to his presence, and then, out came the full-fledged song: “bze-bze-BOOOOOOOOOO-bwu-cheep-cheep-cheep.” And then again, and again, as if this Bewick’s Wren were in the throes of the courting season.

Most birdsong is in the spring, as birds define their territory and try to attract mates. So why is this Bewick’s Wren singing now, in October, when it won’t nest again until April?

Bewick's Wren singing
Bewicks Wren, photo by Andrew A. Reding

Many birders notice an autumn uptick in birdsong, especially among certain species, like robins and sparrows. And it turns out, there are a variety of reasons for it.

Bewick’s Wrens are year-round residents, staying in the same area for basically their entire adult life, and increased song in fall is an attempt to defend their territory that they will try to hold all winter. As young birds disperse, leaving their natal territory to find their own, adults want to make sure their existing claim is respected.

For flocking birds, like White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, song is abundant as they arrive on their wintering grounds and is how they establish their social position in the flock they will live with for the next six months.

And then there are other categories. For Song Sparrows, the ability to learn the 5 to 13 songs in their neighborhood is crucial to finding a mate and defending territory, and this requires a lot of practice. So if you hear “substandard” song between now and spring, it may be a young bird tuning up the pipes.

Even if these fall songs aren’t perfect, we’re happy for them. It’s a long time until spring!