Chinchillas make a variety of sounds. The most common is a “barking” sound that they make to indicate that they're scared and to warn other chinchillas of danger. On occasion, our chinchillas will bark if there's a particularly loud car going by the house or if there's an unusual noise outside.
A while back, Michael Termathe posted the best collection of recorded chinchilla sounds I could find. Unfortunately, his site is longer running. The good news is that his hard work has been archived here! The following is his article (edited a bit) with the chinchilla sounds he recorded. I hope you find them as useful as I did.
In order to get a more detailed understanding of the behavior of chinchillas, it is necessary to interpret their speech, because chinchillas communicate each other by using a comprehensive repertoire of sounds.
In fact, they only have a few basic sounds. Because of a rich variation in melody and loudness, chinchillas thus have a distinct language. If you listen to their sounds attentively, you'll recognize a high similarity to human sounds and emotions.
During 18 years (the age of my oldest chins), I carefully watched their behavior and their sounds, which I want to present below.
Note: Some of the sounds described on this page are very seldom made by a chinchilla and it is not easy to record them with a microphone. In addition, please keep in mind that every chinchilla has its own personality. Some chinchillas are talkative, others not so much. Usually, a pair of chinchillas make more sounds than a single one (to whom should a lonely chinchilla talk to?).
The Warning Call
Whenever a chinchilla hears or sees something unusual and it doesn't know what it is, it responds through a sequence of short and loud warning calls (up to 15 at a time). This typical warning call sounds like barking. I think, in the wild this sound is used to alert the entire group. (warn1.mp3: here, the chinchilla worries about some fireworks from a distance.)
A newly purchased chinchilla often makes use of that sound, because there are a lot of strange noises in its new environment. However, when the chinchilla gets used to its new home and gradually becomes tame, you will hear this sound less and less often.
Chinchillas have very sensitive heading. For instance, if a car door shuts somewhere from a distance, we humans probably won't notice, because we've gotten used to it. However, a chinchilla may become fearful because of that noise which is new.
Occasionally, you can hear a chinchilla barking while it is sleeping. Usually, it makes just a few croaky/hoarse shouts. I am sure chinchillas do dream! I think they sometimes even have nightmares.
The Short Alarm Call
If a chinchilla gets shocked because of a sudden noise it is likely to try and run away as fast as possible. Then it shouts in fear using a short call, which sounds like “Hababababapp”. That sounds very funny.
Fear and Pain
In extreme situations a shy and irritable chinchilla reacts through a loud and piercing scream. From a tame chinchilla, however you will very rarely hear this cry.
Chins also make use of this cry in pain – for instance, if they have hurt themselves.
Rage and Anger
If a chinchilla female has a lot of babies, say three or four, then the fights for to be fed can be quite heated, particularly if the mother only has a small amount of milk. In such cases, the hungry kids will fight amongst themselves. While they're getting up on the hind legs, they threaten each other by chattering their teeth and then try to throw down their rivals — mostly harmless.
During such a family feud, the chinchilla mother may turn very sour. Then she answers through a loud rasping noise, that sounds like an angry grumble. Mostly she also gets up on her hind legs and sprays urine towards her babies to separate them.
A shy and nervous chinchilla also makes use of such urine spraying, if a human hand comes too close to it.
A “Marriage Dispute”
Chinchillas are very spirited animals. They love jumping and chewing very much. Thus, keeping them in a chinchilla cage or habitat, even if spacious, will sometimes cause a quarrel among them. This is particularly true if they they don't get enough exercises in the evening. But generally chinchillas are very peace-loving animals. Hence, squabbles are rather rare.
The following example shows a situation where the female is bothered by the male. While they are facing each other, the male provokes her by chattering his teeth and she answers with a loud and angry grumble (knurren.mp3). You can hear the silent chatter in the background, especially in the second half of the sound sample. The female suddenly screams up and sprays urine toward the male's face.
Then the male leaps up and as a result, a turbulent chase begins. (kaefjagd.mp3)
Whenever a baby sniffs at its mother (nose to nose), it always squeaks in a very loud and high way. (bquiek1.mp3) In this way it signals to its mother that it wants to be fed and cared for. Then the chinchilla mother answers through a calm grunt and licks her baby's ears carefully. (bquiek2.mp3)
Then the baby crawls under the mother's belly and looks for the teats. While it is doing so, the mother turns her baby upside down and starts washing it with her tongue. And while the mother is grunting silently, the baby sings cheerfully and happily in high tones. (singen.mp3)
The young chinchillas are much more talkative than full-grown ones. While they are seeking shelter close to their mother, there is always an active conversation. Here is the sound of a sleepy and content baby (sleepy1.mp3) and the same after being woken up (wakeup2.mp3).
A pair of chinchillas often communicates through a soft contact sound, which sounds like a content grunt (u1_adpcm.mp3). That funny sound confirms their togetherness. Chinchillas often make use of this sound when they are calm. Also you may hear this sound while the chinchilla is sitting on a board feeling lonely, longing for a friend to play with.
The Decoy Sound
A chinchilla often makes use of the decoy sound if it wants to have something or if it is looking for something. For example, it might beg for a snack or if it would like to get out of the cage (lock.mp3).
My chinchillas may have a daily run in the kitchen. And they always examine everything that is chewable (like wallpaper, cartons, and cables). Often, there is one chinchilla sitting quietly in one corner chewing on something interesting while the other one feels lonely and concerned. Then the lonely one reacts with a short and concerned sound (lock1.mp3 In the background you can hear the lonely chinchilla tapping around looking for the other one).
Here Kuddel is looking for his partner, because he wants to kiss and cuddle with her (u4_acm.mp3).
The “Don't Hurt Me” Sound
This sound (tmn.mp3) is used quite often whenever a chinchilla feels annoyed or cramped by another one. Chinchillas make use of that sound from childhood and they will retain it all of their lives. The noise indicates that the chinchilla is harmless and defenseless (poor little chinchilla).
The Protest Sound
If a chinchilla feels pressed by another one, it reacts with a grumpy noise – the protest-sound. For instance, this may occur at the bowl where several chinchillas fight for food or if a female gets annoyed by its mate. This sound will tell the other one something equivalent to “Get lost!” or “Leave me alone!” (bedr1.mp3)
If an annoyed chinchilla becomes too pressed by the other one, it will react by strong defence-sounds or rage and anger.
The Defence Sound
The defence sound is a very short and forceful call and sounds like “kack – kack” (keck.mp3). It means something like “Ouch!” or “Scram!”.
A sucking mother often uses this sound if her babies are being too demanding.
In chinchilla-farms, I've noticed very shy chins, which were making use of that sound as soon as a human was came close to their cages. Obviously, this is the result of captivity and missing affection.