Tag Archive: birds

Birds changed their tune during the Covid lockdown

Photo credit: Paul Knittel from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In several blogs I have written recently, I commented that the pandemic’s effect on the soundscape did not just impact humans but other species as well, e.g. birds, whales. A recent article on a study of birds in San Francisco found that birds started singing differently during the silence of the COVID-19 Lockdown, noting that male white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco have begun to sing more softly and with an improved vocal range. The article says this change in singing may make them “sexier to females.”

The article cites a paper that has studied how animals, including whales and birds, have changed their behaviors during the pandemic shutdown. Before the pandemic, cities characterized by loud noises, especially from traffic, forced birds to sing louder to be heard by other birds. The authors reached this finding by comparing birdsong data collected previous years at the same sites they collected data during April and May 2020. Their data allowed them to conclude that birds “can adapt to changing environments.”

Erik Stokstad, writing for Science, states that birdsong “recaptured its former glory,” referring to the white-crowned sparrows of San Francisco. He adds that when birds sing louder in noisy environments the stress created “can speed aging and disrupt their metabolisms.” With the noise also preventing birds from hearing their own chicks, there is the possibility that bird diversity is less in many cities. Furthermore, by demonstrating that some birds can adjust their songs to their environment, it might be that birds who could not adjust, and as a result left noisier cities, might return to places that are now quieter. But the quieter time of the pandemic has passed as cities have been returning to noisier times. Thus, the birds that have quieted down will very likely have to increase the volume of their songs. Also, may I add, that it is unlikely the birds who left will return.

Stokstad interviewed Elizabeth Danberry and her behavioral ecologists who have studied white-crowned sparrows in and around San Francisco for more than twenty years. Their research has clearly demonstrated the impact of noise pollution on the health and well-being of these sparrows. Similarly, long standing research has also clearly found that noise is hazardous to human hearing, health, and well-being. So I ask, how much more research do we need linking noise to adverse effects on humans and other species before we begin to lower decibel level in our environment?

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Exciting research on the biological effects of noise on birds

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Recently we wrote about real “angry birds”—-research on birds showing that exposure to noise makes them hostile. That called to my mind some very exciting research by Jesse Barber, PhD, at Boise State University that was highlighted at a Public Outreach Workshop in Denver, Colorado, several years ago and has the enthusiastic support of scientists at the National Park Service.

Dr. Barber’s innovative research design got a lot of attention. He has written extensively about the effects of traffic noise on birds and how noise is an invisible source of habitat degradation

Dr. Barber is one of the emerging heroes in research on the biological effects of noise. He recently gave a TEDx talk that provides an overview of his perspective. Watch for more exciting work from his lab in Idaho.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Real angry birds

Photo credit: Thet Tun Aung from Pexels

Country File magazine reports on recent research by Manchester Metropolitan University with Manchester Airport that found birds living near airports “are exposed to extreme noise levels from jet engines” which interferes with communication during breeding season. Interestingly, not only is communication affected, but the researchers found that common chiffchaffs living near loud aircraft were five times more likely to attack a speaker playing bird song than chiffchaffs who lived further away from airports. That is, the noise made the birds more aggressive.

We were not entirely surprised that noise would cause aggression in animals, as some studies show that noise causes or exacerbates aggression among humans.

Just another reason to lower the volume, everywhere.



Human noise takes its toll on birds

Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post, reports that some birds are so stressed by noise pollution that “it looks like they have PTSD.”  Kaplan writes that scientists researching birds living near noisy natural gas treatment facilities in New Mexico discovered from sampling the birds’ blood that they had “the same physiological symptoms as a human suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.” Said Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History, “[n]oise is causing birds to be in a situation where they’re chronically stressed . . . and that has really huge health consequences for birds and their offspring.”

And humans?  The researchers took their findings to Christopher Lowry, a stress physiologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was not surprised by the results–“it’s what you would expect in a creature exposed to prolonged, persistent strain.”  So does the study’s findings have implications about the effect of noise on human health?  Kaplan writes:

To Lowry, the fact that humans respond to stress in the same manner as animals as distantly related as birds suggests that this response is ancient and deeply ingrained. And it raises questions about how humans handle exposure to unrelenting noise. The mother bluebird that nested near a compressor and was unable to leave when the sound became unbearable may not be so different from a low-income human family forced to rent an apartment near a flight path or loud industrial site.

Ultimately, being under an aural assault is bad for any living thing’s health and well-being.  Says Lowry, “[t]here’s evidence that being able to have a full auditory experience is essential for optimal health in both species.”


What’s nature’s remedy for blocking noise?

Trees. Dean Fosdick, Associated Press, writes that “landscape designers in cities are creating quieter living spaces by using trees to mute loud noises like sirens and air brakes.”  The practice is called “‘soundscaping,’ and it aims to restore peaceful, natural sounds like wind whispering through leaves, birds chirping or rain dripping from branches.”  Click the link to learn more.

Hear, hear:

On this July 4th Weekend, A Modest Plea for Less Noise.

Not sure if we would agree with his assessment of why noise is so pervasive, but this bit is dead on:

And noise isn’t simply about volume: it’s about persistence.  It’s about invasiveness.  Think of people who chatter away on Smart phones even as they’re out for a quiet walk along the beach or in the woods. How can you hear the waves or the birds if you’re screaming into a phone? Bits and pieces of conversations I’ve overheard are not about emergencies or even pressing matters; it’s more like, “Guess where I am?  I’m at the beach/concert/top of the mountain!”  Followed by selfies and postings and more calls or texts.

With all these forms of noise, it’s difficult to be in the moment.  It’s even difficult to find a moment.  Also, even in quiet times, people feel pressured to fill the silence with, well, something.  So unaccustomed to quiet are they that they reach for their Smart phones (perhaps to play a noisy video game), or they turn on the TV, or they chatter away even when they have nothing to say. Must avoid “uncomfortable” silences, so we’ve been told.