Understanding Calls

This page provides information on the main marmoset calls

Between-group or Within-group?

Vocalisations are either to communicate:

  • With other members of the social group (within-group)
    • or, to another or other social groups (between-group)

Who Made the Call?

  • Working out which individuals are making the calls you hear can be difficult
  • Some of the calls are made with the mouth wide open and are louder (easier to tell)
  • Other calls are made with the mouth closed and these calls are also quiet (harder to tell)
  • Body vibrations (abdominal contractions) can help identify which individual is calling
  • This page states whether each call type is made with the mouth open or closed


  • Spectrograms show what the call ‘looks like’ if you plot it’s changing frequency over time
  • The horizontal axis represents time, the vertical axis frequency; and the amplitude of a particular frequency at a particular time is represented by the intensity or colour of each point


  • Vocalisations can be used as an indicator of welfare
  • We have split the calls into positive, ambiguous and negative welfare indicators (for the purpose of this page)
  • Welfare implications can also depend on other factors
  • Recognising the call type is important but it is important to also take into consideration:
    • Frequency (how often made)
    • Pitch (how high or low)
    • Intensity (how loud)
    • Situation (context)

These factors can all give valuable extra information.

Positive Welfare Indicators


  • Pleasant-sounding call to human ears
  • One element of cyclically fluctuating frequency, various call lengths
  • Mouth closed (watch for the vibration of the body in the video)
  • Within-group contact call (contact calls help marmosets to keep track of where other group members are, keeping the group together in their natural habitat where dense foliage can make seeing each other difficult)
  • Commonest call


  • Pleasant-sounding to human ears (sounds like the chirping of birds)
  • Rapid, regularly-spaced series of notes or elements (each falling from high to low frequency)
  • Very quiet call
  • Mouth closed or slightly open
  • Within-group call: made when marmosets are in close social contact (physical and visual contact)
  • Made in friendly/affiliative contexts
  • Heard when near, or anticipating a favoured food

Ambiguous Welfare Indication


  • Pleasing sound to the human ear (sounds like the trill of a small bird)
  • Rapid series of elements, regularly and closely spaced and each rising swiftly in frequency
  • Mouth open
  • Between-group territorial call; often heard when groups can see each other while displaying behaviours such as their hair standing on end
  • Within-group it can also indicate a level of alertness or agitation


  • Sounds like a soft whistle
  • Constant in pitch over the whole call; made singly or several in close succession
  • Similar to the Loud Shrill call but shorter
  • Mouth open or almost closed
  • Within-group contact call

Negative Welfare Indicators

Chatter (Angry Chatter; Cackle)

  • Low-pitched, harsh, staccato call
  • Body vibrates noticeably while making this call
  • Aggressive within-group call; often given by marmoset when eating and approached by another or when chasing a group-mate

Loud Shrill

  • Long, loud, shrill, piercing whistle-like call, of constant pitch
  • Loudest marmoset call
  • Mouth wide-open
  • Long distance call
  • Aggressive or territorial call when made between groups by marmosets not separated from members of their own group
  • An isolation call (a very long distance contact call) when made by isolated marmosets or those that have been separated from their partner


  • Low pitched call; uttered singly or several in close succession (can sound like a low squeak)
  • Mouth slightly open
  • Apparently indicates mild anxiety


  • Low-pitched non-tonal utterance
  • Mouth closed
  • Situations of mild anxiety
  • Most often heard with ek (ek-cough), as in this video (similarly heard in combination with tsik and seep)

Tsik (Single Tsik)

  • Very brief call; rises slightly in pitch before dropping straight down to a much lower pitch
  • Mouth half-open
  • Made when marmoset is alarmed
  • Also heard during aggressive encounters between groups

Rapid Fire Tsik/Mobbing Call

  • Tsik repeated in rapid series
  • With increased alarm, tsiks are uttered in very close succession until they begin to sound, to human ears, as if they almost merge together
  • Very loud call
  • Given in response to the presence of a potential predator and usually directed towards it
  • Contagious call, with all other group members typically joining in


  • Brief call rising slightly in frequency; fainter than the seep call
  • Mouth closed
  • Mildly alarming situations

Seep (Warning Call/Alarm Call)

  • Very sharp, brief call with continuously increasing frequency
  • Made with mouth half-open or closed
  • An alarm call
  • Given at the sudden appearance of a threat (e.g. a bird spotted overhead)
  • Response of other marmosets is often to rapidly move higher and freeze (the startle response)

Squeal/Scream (Adult)

  • (In this audio example, heard alongside the chatter call of the aggressor)
  • Very unpleasant sound to human ears
  • Unevenly modulating call
  • Mouth open
  • Submissive/distress call
  • Given by submissive individuals, by individual ‘losing’ an aggressive encounter
  • Also made if marmoset is fearful when held by humans
  • Vital to check the situation if this call is heard

Compound Calls

Calls are also made in combination with other calls, for example ‘tsik-ek’ and ‘seep-ek’.


  • Tsik and ek straight after one another
  • Mouth half-open
  • Made in situations of some alarm

Infant Calls

Infant Cry Call

  • Call that ‘grates’ on the human ear
  • An insistent prolonged and repetitive whining call
  • Often interspersed with calls resembling the adult tsik and twitter calls
  • Only heard from infants
  • To get attention from other group members; heard when encouraged off a carriers back but not comfortable being alone
  • Infants also make calls that sound a bit similar to the adult call types, with the calls becoming more and more adult-like as they get older