CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to California's
Reptiles and Amphibians




Sounds of
California Toad - Anaxyrus boreas halophilus

(Baird and Girard, 1853)

(= Bufo boreas halophilus)
Click the speaker icon to listen to an mp3 sound file.

Male California Toads do not have a pronounced vocal sac, but they do make a call during breeding aggregations. Their call has been described as a high-pitched plinking sound, like the peeping of a chick, repeated seveal times. Since it is not made to attract distant females, the call is not very loud when compared to the call of the sympatric Pacific Treefrog (or simiilar treefrog species.) The sound of a group of males calling has been compared to the sound of a distant flock of geese.

Calls are produced at night and during the day during the short breeding season. Males make their call primarily when they are in close contact with other males. Rather than being advertisement calls made to attract females, these calls are generally considered encounter or aggressive calls, or release calls, which serve to maintain territory and spacing between males. The calls may also serve other purposes. For example - I have observed and video recorded a lone male toad calling.  It could also be possible that female toads are attracted to the sounds of male encounter calls, and can judge a male's condition by his call, similar to the function of an advertisement call.

Unreceptive females may also produce a release call when grasped on the back by a male. Males and females sometimes make a release call when grabbed across the back by a human hand.


The following recordings were made in the daytime at a small pond in Contra Costa County shown below at the peak of the breeding season at that location. Birds can be heard in the background including crows, red-winged blackbirds, and a red-tailed hawk.

Sound Sound
This is a two minute continuous recording of about 20 close toads with more in the background. Not all were calling at once. A number of single male toads swam around the shallows interacting with each other and with other males in amplexus. These sounds correspond to the video seen below.

This is 56 seconds of various toad sounds edited together.
Sound california toad habitat
This is a 3 second recording of the sharp regular peeping of one member of a pair in amplexus (probably the male) which I heard occasionally. The sound was made when the pair was not directly in contact with other toads. When contact was made, the male produced a more typical louder and faster encounter call. Another toad is heard in the background.
  Calling Location


The following recordings were made at night at a small artificial desert pond in San Diego County, shown  below. Several male toads were calling occasionally while floating on the water hidden in reeds or only partially. Also calling from the pond, but not heard here, were California Treefrogs and Red-spotted Toads.

Sound Sound
This is a 4 second recording of a single short call.

This is a 3 second recording of a single short call.
Sound Sound
This is an 8 second recording of a short series of calls produced by what appears to be two male toads.

This is a 14 second recording of a short series of calls produced by what appears to be two male toads.
Sound california toad habitat
This is a 6 second recording of a short series of agitated calls of one toad.
  Calling location


The following recordings were made on a sunny afternoon in early March in Contra Costa County at the edge of a small cattle pond. Two toads were observed calling from inside two California Ground Squirrel burrows that were about 4 feet apart at the edge of the pond, and were probably connected underground. No toads were seen and the reason for the calling is a mystery. The toads were probably close together, calling to announce their territory.
Sound Sound
This is a 61 second recording of the sounds of one toad with a second in the background in the beginning. The microphone was placed at the entrance to a California Ground Squirrel burrow (shown below.)
This is a 13 second recording of the sounds of one toad, recorded from a short distance outside the entrance to a California Ground Squirrel burrow (shown below.) A California Ground Squirrel is heard calling in the background, along with crows and other birds.
california toad habitat


california toad habitat
Sound  
This is a 24 second recording of the release call of a distant toad at a pond in Contra Costa County (shown below) on a sunny afternoon in early March. A California Red-legged Frog is heard in the background along with many different kinds of birds.
california toad habitat

Waveform and Sonogram
Sound sonogram
This is a recording of one repetition of the call of a California Toad recorded at night in San Diego County.

The image on the right is a visual representation of this call.

Click on it to see a larger image.

Click here for information about how to read the waveform and sonogram images.

Release Calls

A release call is produced by a male toad or an unreceptive female toad when a male toad or other animal gets on its back and grabs its sides in the position used for mating or amplexus. It's a toad's way of saying "Get off my back! Let go!"

Sound  
This is a 9 second recording of the release calls produced by a toad of undetermined gender as it was grasped across the back.

Short Videos of Calling Toads
california toad california toad california toad california toad
A male California Toad calls during daylight from the edge of a rocky creek in Alameda County (shown here). The call does not seem to be an agressive or release call, because no other solo male toads were nearby or in contact with him, but there was an amplexing pair swimming back and forth in the water about ten feet away from him. At a breeding location, you can often hear what sounds like a chorus of toads, especially when the toads are hidden in vegetation, but California Toads do not typically make advertisement calls to attract females. They vocalize when they encounter other males. Males in search of a female often swim around excitedly, approaching other males (as if they were females) and trying to steal away females in amplexus. These encounters are usually accompanied by a series of encounter calls (release calls) from the other male. Sometimes one toad in amplexus not in direct contact with another male will make a series of short, sharp, evenly-spaced peeps, which sound as if they could be a warning signal. It is probably the male that makes this sound, though I can't be sure. At times there was so much going on, it was hard to see which toads were making sounds.

These videos show some of this breeding behavior at the shallow outlet of a pond in Contra Costa County where at least 8 solo males and 10 pairs in amplexus were observed in the area. Not all of them are seen in the videos. Some are heard off camera.
california toad california toad    
A male toad picked up out of the breeding pond makes the release call, then swims away. A male toad picked up out of the breeding pond makes the release call, then swims away.    

You can listen to more recordings of California Toads on this cd:

Carlos Davidson - Frog and Toad Calls of the Pacific Coast - Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

cd cover

and on the cd that comes with this book:

Lang Elliott, Carl Gerhardt, and Carlos Davidson - The Frogs and Toads of North America - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

book cover

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