Rats, mice, and squirrels vocalize more than you might think — you just can’t hear most of it. You’re more likely to hear them chewing, scratching or scurrying than your are to hear them squeaking.
An Overview of Rodents and their Sounds
Unless you’ve seen a rodent or the evidence left behind by chewing and nesting, it can be difficult to know they’re in your house because they’re incredibly quiet. Or rather, the sounds they make mostly fall outside of the range of sound audible to humans.
Rodents like rats, mice, and squirrels actually make many different vocalizations, including chattering, squeaking, and chirping, along with the scurrying and scratching noises they make as they move around. But most of their vocalizations are in the ultrasonic range, which people can’t pick up on.
Fun fact: Rodents are capable of making ultrasonic vocalizations that are beyond the ability of the human ear to discern.
Rodents squeak, chatter and chirp to communicate with each other and each of these noises can have many different meanings depending on the context. For example, certain vocalizations might sound an alarm and alert others to danger. Others might indicate distress or pain. There are also vocalizations for play, mating and socializing.
Rodents are also always gnawing or chewing, which makes its own distinct noise. But did you know that their chewing habits serve a purpose? Rodents have large front teeth on their upper and lower jaws, which grow continually. Rodents have to use those teeth, by constantly chewing on things, to keep them worn down and prevent them from becoming ingrown. Chewing also keeps them sharp.
You might also hear scratching noises as they scurry around through your house. Rodents have sharp claws and you can hear them making contact with surfaces inside your walls and ceilings.
There are similarities to the sounds rodents make as a whole, but there are also differences that are specific to different members of the rodent family. Compiled here is a run-down of the sounds they make — both audible and inaudible.
What Sounds do Rats Make?
Rats are fairly quiet animals. While they do squeak, you’re more likely to hear them moving around than you are to hear them squeaking. But if you listen at night, when they’re more active, and if you’re close to a nest, you might be able to hear them chattering to each other.
Rats mostly use ultrasonic vocalizations to communicate with each other, which are outside of our ability to hear. However, rats might audibly squeak or hiss when they’re in distress or to warn other rats of a threat.
Rats’ ultrasonic vocalizations can be described as whistle-like calls or chirping and can be heard using special equipment. Rat pups commonly make this sound when they are separated from their mother. Adult rats make these sounds when they’re communicating with other rats.
Ultrasonic chirps convey information about the individual rat’s environment. Certain frequencies can convey aggressive encounters and other adverse conditions. Other frequencies are indicative of playful and rewarding experiences as well as social and mating behaviors.
While you’re not likely to be able to pick up on ultrasonic rat vocalizations without the proper equipment, you might still be able to catch the odd chirp or squeak within our audible range.
What Sounds do Mice Make?
Mice, like rats, also make ultrasonic vocalizations outside of our ability to hear. And these vocalizations are also used to communicate with each other about their environments and physical condition.
However, unlike rats, mice are more likely to make sounds audible to humans. Their high-pitched squeaks, which sometimes resemble the chirping of birds, may be familiar to you.
Mice usually vocalize to relay information to other mice, including locations of shelter and food. Studies are showing that mice also vocalize to communicate emotional states. And each vocalization has a unique pitch.
Mice also make sounds similar to rats when they’re moving around. You may hear them scuffling as they rummage through your garbage bins or skittering up your walls and pipes. Since they use their claws to grip surfaces, you’re likely to hear scratching sounds as well.
Also like rats, you’re more likely to hear mice at night, since they’re nocturnal. If you’re hearing any of these sounds during the day, they may be coming from a common diurnal rodent — a squirrel.
What Sounds do Squirrels Make?
Though squirrels are easier to differentiate from rats and mice based on sight alone, these bushy-tailed rodents also make chirping and chattering sounds. Squirrels are typically much louder than rats or mice though and commonly vocalize in a range humans can hear.
Squirrel sounds depend on the species and can also vary depending on age and gender. Tree and ground squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are more active during the day. Because of this, you’re more likely to hear them during the day too.
Flying squirrels, on the other hand, are nocturnal, and compared to their daytime cousins are much more quiet. They will sometimes chirp or produce a soft churning noise though.
Flying squirrels are also capable of ultrasonic communication. Since flying squirrels forage alone, ultrasonic vocalizations allow them to reunite with other flying squirrels in the dark. They also use these high-frequency sounds to convey the location of food and alert others about the presence of predators.
Squirrels also use vocalization audible to humans to communicate with others of their kind. Specifically, squirrels make alarm calls that sound like a “kuk” and “quaa.”
The “kuk” sound is short but broad and is vocalized in rapid succession. A squirrel makes this sound to alert others to imminent danger. When the threat subsides, the squirrel shifts to a “quaa” sound. These sounds are loud enough for other squirrels to hear from short distances.
Baby squirrels also make a “muk-muk” sound. It is a soft sound that resembles a stifled sneeze. They make this sound when they’re hungry to signal to their mother to nurse them.
When distressed, baby squirrels make high-pitched cries similar to the chirping sounds that birds make. This sound is shrill and can reach the mother even when she’s away from the nest.
During mating season, you can also hear the “muk-muk” sound from male squirrels when they’re in search of a female. The “kuk” and “quaa” sounds can also be heard from female squirrels before and after mating.
In addition, squirrels also make sounds moving around. Like rats and mice, they can be heard chewing, scratching, scraping, and rubbing as they run across wood beams or up pipes.
Rats, Mice, and Squirrels
The saying, “as quiet as a mouse” makes sense once you understand that the the majority of mouse, and rat, vocalizations are beyond our ability to hear. And while they’re more vocal than you may have initially thought, you’re not likely to identify them based on sound alone. In contrast, squirrels are much louder than their cousins and you might hear them calling out to one another.
Rats, mice, and squirrels are constantly gnawing on things to keep their teeth in good shape, and if you don’t hear them at it, the evidence left behind can also alert you to their presence in your home. But if you listen carefully, you still might be able to hear them moving around. If you’re very lucky, you might hear the odd squeak or chirp.
If you think you might have rodents in your house, your best bet is to contact pest control. They know what to look for and can help if they do find rodents.