Grunting, lowing and bleating (Animal sounds, Part B)

a white sheep bleating as it looks at the camera
Marcel ter Bekke/Moment/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

In Part A of this blog (Howling, mewing and snorting), we looked at words for the various sounds made by dogs, cats and horses. This week we’re widening our scope and considering words for the sounds made by farm animals and wild animals.

Starting with farm animals, sheep and goats are said to baa or to bleat and when cows make a long, deep sound, they moo. (A literary way of saying ‘moo’ is the verb low.) If a cow makes a louder sound, especially one that sounds distressed, it is said to bellow:

I woke at six o’clock to the sound of sheep baaing / bleating in the fields.

There was the distant sound of cows mooing.

In the valley below, the cattle lowed plaintively.

A cow bellows as she’s separated from her calf.

Pigs are said to grunt when they make repeated low, rough noises. When they make longer, high-pitched sounds they squeal:

I could hear pigs grunting in the barn.

The pigs were squealing as they were being loaded onto the truck.

Moving on to wild animals, there are a lot of words for the noises that birds make. Most are positive (or at least, neutral) for example the words tweet, chirp and cheep for the short, high sounds that they make:

I love to hear the birds tweeting in the morning.

All I could hear was running water and the sound of the birds chirping.

Also positive is the word warble for a longer sound, with rapidly changing notes:

In the spring, the meadows are alive with the sounds of birds warbling.

Two less positive words for unpleasant, loud and high-pitched bird sounds are screech and squawk:

Gulls screech overhead as we make our way to the harbour.

The chickens were squawking in alarm.

Other bird noise words are specific to different types of bird. Owls hoot, while chickens cluck and ducks quack:

Somewhere in the forest, an owl hooted.

The chickens clucked contentedly as they scratched around in the yard.

Ducks were quacking on the lake.

Finally for birds, geese honk and crows caw when they make their loud, rough noise and, by way of contrast, when doves and pigeons make their repeated soft, low sound, they coo:

Why do geese honk when they fly?

Crows cawed from the beech trees.

We would wake to the sound of wood pigeons cooing.

We’ll finish with a range of very different animal noises. When frogs make their characteristic deep, rough sound, they croak:

She could hear the frogs croaking in the pond.

Snakes that make a long s sound hiss:

The snake hissed, ready to strike.

Small rodents that make repeated short, high sounds squeak:

The guinea pigs squeak when they’re hungry.

Finally, insects that make a continuous, low sound are said to buzz:

There are so many bees on the lavender, you can hear them buzzing.

That concludes my animal sounds post. I hope you found it interesting.

4 thoughts on “Grunting, lowing and bleating (Animal sounds, Part B)

  1. Heard rather too many cow bellows as a young EAL student.

    Thank you for the distinction between grunting and squealing too.

    I did not originally know about “warble” in a positive context. In 1992 I read this book where a young girl was considered a warbler – it was a thing she did instead of talking. And the warbling was annoying to her mother to say the least.

    [I can only imagine how the mother might have felt if the child were screeching and squalling!]

    [I mean squawking – perhaps you have talked about seagulls before].

    Speaking of singing:

    “The cattle are lowing – the baby awakes – the little Lord Jesus – but no crying he makes” [AWAY IN A MANGER]


    And I seem to hear guinea pigs more than mice do the squeaking these days.

    [Electrical objects like the ones in the New Words for late May have also been known to buzz the way that insects do].

    To the other students here:

    What was the first animal sound you were aware of and how did you put it into English?

    What is the one you’ve most recently learnt?

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