Animals use vocalizations to communicate a variety of messages. A hissing snake is warning of his presence, a growling dog is telling you to back up. One of the less common, but more distinctive animal sounds is the screech. From bonobos to bats, owls to howler monkeys, screeching helps a diverse range of creatures to make their point.
A Very Vocal Owl
The clue is in the name with the Eastern screech owl (Megascops asio), which has a distinctive screeching call that it uses to communicate with its mate. The screech owl’s vocalizations can start off as gentle, modulating trills and ascend into a climax of screeching. Prepare to plug your ears if you’ve got screech owls for neighbors -- those living east of the Rockies often do -- as mating pairs often “sing” to each other using their distinctive screech.
Other Noisy Birds
Western scrub (Aphelocoma californica) jays are infamous for their prolonged screeching sessions. These choruses can last up to 30 minutes. Jays have been recorded gathering in groups to “mourn” for dead birds. Parrots are the kings and queens of vocal imitation. When they’re not repeating back every naughty word you thought they hadn’t heard, they are quite happy to just screech their lungs out. One parrot in London, England scared away would-be burglars when he started screeching at them as they entered his home.
Bats Louder than Rock Concerts
Bats do nothing to help their spooky image when they start screeching. But their din can go beyond spooky and become just plain painful when they hit full volume. All bats squeak and screech to communicate with other bats, but each bat has to vocalize at his own pitch to avoid confusing the others. This means that some bats have no choice but to go for those high notes to make their voices heard. The higher the pitch, the louder the bat has to call to make the sound travel. The loudest bats can hit volumes greater than those heard at typical rock concerts, a 2008 study conducted at Dansk University in Denmark revealed.
A wide variety of primates can screech, typically to communicate aggression to other animals. The howler monkey (Alouatta caraya) is better known for its distinctive howl, but is capable of some shrill, high-pitched screeches too. Common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus) screech too. The sound typically starts as a pant and escalates into a screech.
- All About Birds: Eastern Screech Owl
- Live Science: Odd! Birds Screech at Avian Funerals
- The Telegraph: Parrot Scares off Burglars with Piercing Screech
- Live Science: Bats Screech Louder Than Rock Concerts
- Bonobo: What do Bonobos Sound Like?
- Women in the Wild: Chimpanzee Vocal Communication
- National Geographic: Howler Monkey
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.