The principal physical mechanism of sound generation is similar in songbirds and humans, despite large differences in their vocal organs. Whereas vocal fold dynamics in the human larynx are well characterized, the vibratory behaviour of the sound-generating labia in the songbird vocal organ, the syrinx, is unknown. We present the first high-speed video records of the intact syrinx during induced phonation. The syrinx of anaesthetized crows shows a vibration pattern of the labia similar to that of the human vocal fry register. Acoustic pulses result from short opening of the labia, and pulse generation alternates between the left and right sound sources. Spontaneously calling crows can also generate similar pulse characteristics with only one sound generator. Airflow recordings in zebra finches and starlings show that pulse tone sounds can be generated unilaterally, synchronously or by alternating between the two sides. Vocal fry-like dynamics therefore represent a common production mechanism for low-frequency sounds in songbirds. These results also illustrate that complex vibration patterns can emerge from the mechanical properties of the coupled sound generators in the syrinx. The use of vocal fry-like dynamics in the songbird syrinx extends the similarity to this unusual vocal register with mammalian sound production mechanisms.