What Sound Does a Giraffe Make in the Wild?

Can you guess what sound a giraffe makes? These graceful creatures don’t really have a voice because of their extended necks, but they can produce unusual sounds.

Nov 15, 2023By Lisa Szymanski
what sound does giraffe make in wild

The giraffe’s extraordinarily long neck helps it reach the leaves on the tallest trees and gives it an incredible vantage point to spot predators. Despite the immense height of these animals, a giraffe doesn’t have a voice like the roar of a lion or the trumpet of an elephant. They can create sounds, but their unique anatomy restricts them from producing audible voices. To better understand how giraffes communicate, we look at the sounds that giraffes make and why they are considered more of the quiet type.

Why Do Giraffes Not Have Voices?

face of a giraffe moving its lips against green background
Giraffes don’t have loud voices.

A parrot can squawk, dogs bark, and cows moo, but even researchers are baffled by the giraffe’s lack of a voice. This doesn’t mean that a giraffe can’t make a sound. They can produce a range of sounds, but they do not have a distinct voice. In fact, giraffes are considered quiet animals that produce very low-frequency sounds from 14 Hz to just over 200 Hz. The reason for their voiceless behavior is due to the length of their necks. Their peculiar anatomy makes it impossible for them to have a voice. Instead, these long-necked animals will hum and hiss to communicate.

Do Giraffes Have Vocal Cords?

close up head and neck of a giraffe in the bush
Their long necks are responsible for their quietness.

Most animals, including birds and whales, have vocal cords to produce distinct voices.

Even though giraffes have vocal cords, they don’t have a clear or prominent voice. Their vocal cords work differently from those of other animals because the sounds they produce have a long way to travel. To vocalize, animals and people must create airflow to move their vocal cords. Unfortunately for these African animals, their tiny lungs and slim wind pipes simply cannot produce the air needed to activate their vocal cords. Their 6-foot necks certainly don’t help with vocalization, as it’s simply too far for air to travel to help them speak. So, a giraffe has vocal cords, including a larynx, or voice box, but due to their structure, they are unable to develop their voice.

What are the Sounds That Giraffes Can Make?

heads of two giraffes one with open mouth
Giraffes can hum and grunt to speak to one another.

It was only a few years ago that researchers discovered a giraffe’s ability to vocalize using gentle sounds. These Africangiants were considered mute until a study involving giraffes at zoos revealed that they actually hum to express themselves. These hums were not random vocalizations. Giraffes produced humming sounds to communicate with one another. Apart from their soothing hums, these tall land animals can hiss and bellow. While they can emit these special sounds, the frequency is so low that it is almost inaudible to the human ear. Some of the most common sounds produced by a giraffe include humming, whistling, growling, snorting, and grunting. The reason that researchers previously believed that giraffes couldn’t vocalize is because their production of sound is so rare.

What Do Giraffe Sounds Mean?

giraffe mom with calf in kalahari
A mother giraffe tends to her calf.

A giraffe might not be able to hoot like an owl or meow like a cat, but their unusual sounds do serve a purpose. Grunting is the most common sound a giraffe makes and is usually produced when it detects a threat or when males are competing for dominance. Female giraffes are known to whistle and hiss when warning their calves, while young giraffes moo or bleat like sheep. The calves under a year old must communicate with their mothers when they feel scared or drift too far from safety. They generally stop making these vocalizations by a year of age. When a male giraffe is interested in a female, he’ll cough in her presence, which might not seem impressive, but I guess it’s a giraffe thing!

Giraffes Have Noisy Stomachs

one giraffe eating leaves from a tree
A lone giraffe eats from a thorn tree.

Much like a cow, a giraffe can chew the cud because it has four stomachs. This can be a tedious process due to their lengthy necks, but nevertheless, they can bring their food back up for digestive purposes. An interesting fact about these animals is that they can “throw up” when they’re feeling sick but it doesn’t always reach their mouths. They don’t do this very often, but they are known for their excessive gas. While feeding, a giraffe will burp, and it’s usually quite loud. They are also known to be flatulent, but this is simply a normal part of their digestion. Giraffes don’t use their noisy stomachs to communicate with one another. It is a natural part of metabolizing their food.

Giraffes Have a Unique Way of Communicating

two giraffes sharing a leaf
Two giraffes quietly sharing a leaf.

A giraffe may not be able to sing, roar, or chirp, but they have an unusual way of talking to one another. The bulls will cough while courting the cows, and most giraffes use snorts and grunts to alert the herd of a threat. While it was previously believed that these magnificent animalswere voiceless, researchers have discovered the low-frequency sounds that help them survive in the wild. Most of their communication is visual through body language, which makes these graceful creatures less reliant on noises to express themselves. Their long necks are incredibly unique and something to behold, but at the same time, their anatomy gets in the way of having a voice.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.