May 17 2016
Adult peregrines have four main vocalizations — only four.
Because the sounds have multiple meanings they cannot be interpreted without context. To understand what a peregrine means, you’ll need to answer to these questions and see what the birds are doing in the sky and on the ledge:
- How many peregrines are present at the time?
- What are the peregrines doing? Are they perched or flying?
- Are the peregrines at their nest site or somewhere else? Are there eggs or chicks in the nest?
- Is a non-peregrine enemy present?
- What else is going on in the vicinity?
Ee-chup is a peregrine-to-peregrine vocalization. Peregrines say “ee-chup” when they are looking at another peregrine. They say it softly to their mates during ledge displays and more loudly when a new peregrine shows up. The new peregrine may be an intruder or a potential mate. It takes a lot of practice, listening and watching from the ground, to be able to tell whether an ee-chup means “Hello, my love” or “I see you, Intruder!” Unless you can see both peregrines having the conversation, don’t assume you know what ee-chup means. Here are two examples:
Wailing means “I want something to change.” The wail sounds awful but does not necessarily mean bad things are happening. It really means “Things are not changing fast enough for my liking.”
There are so many reasons for the wail that you can’t tell what it means unless you’re watching them from the ground. Peregrines wail to initiate a food transfer. (“I’m impatient — bring it now!”) Peregrines wail when they’re looking for a mate (advertisement wail). Sometimes they wail because they’re annoyed but don’t feel like getting up to deal with it. Sometimes they wail because their rules of social behavior — few as they are — indicate the peregrine making the sound must wait for the other peregrine to deal with it. For instance, “My love, I want you to do something. It’s your job to do it but you aren’t doing it as fast as I want you to.”
- <– This is labeled ‘alarm call’ but in fact it’s a wail out of context … it might even be an advertisement wail.
- <– Two peregrines in Ecuador in the winter, ee-chup plus wail. One peregrine is diving on another one on the ground, perhaps to make him go away. My guess is that the ee-chupper is saying “I see you, Other Peregrine” and the wailer is saying “I want you to stop annoying me!” It’s important to note that without seeing these two peregrines it’s impossible to know what they’re really saying.
Kak: means “Get out of here, Enemy!” Kaks are used against enemy species: humans, raptors and other non-peregrine enemies. If you hear kakking on the Pitt nestcam it means humans or a raptor are nearby and the peregrines don’t like it. Kakking sounds like this:
Chitter: is a rapid chi chi chi close contact sound from mate-to-mate. Because of its low volume and private context, this sound is not often heard on nestcams. Paraphrased from Cornell’s Birds of North America: “It is usually given by the male prior to or during copulation. In captive breeding, it may be given by either sex during agonistic Head-Low Bow Display, when forcing mate off eggs, or by female when forcing Food Transfer.”
p.s. Many thanks to Chad+Chris Saladin who explained the first three vocalizations and showed them to me in context at the Hope Memorial Bridge, Cleveland, Ohio.
(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)