Scientists Link Urban Noise To Decline In City Songbirds

Photo by Buck Lovell.


Those of us who live in urban areas can get so accustomed to noise that we barely notice it.  But it’s a fact: cities are loud.  All that noise can have a deleterious effect on our lives, making it harder to sleep, relax, and stay focused.  Humans aren’t the only ones negatively impacted by urban noise though.  Scientists in Canada recently released a study linking high levels of anthropogenic noise to a decline in the diversity of city songbirds.

Researchers looked at seven species of songbirds at more than 100 sites in and around the city of Edmonton.  After accounting for factors such as vegetation and food sources, the team reviewed their data and discovered a correlation:  the higher the levels of noise, the fewer the species of songbirds.

Birds that sing at lower frequencies are particularly affected.  That’s because a great deal of urban noise comes from traffic – another low-frequency noise.  The competing sounds can interfere with female songbirds’ ability to hear the songs of male birds, thereby interrupting the mating process.  The result, not surprisingly, is fewer offspring.

All this goes to show that creating green spaces for songbirds might not be enough to help them thrive in our cities.  We may need to spend more time making quiet spaces as well.  It would probably be good for all of us.

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Alyson Foster works in the National Geographic Library where she purchases books for the Library’s collection and assists NG staff with finding research materials.