Birds Change Tunes To Adapt To The Urban Jungle (Originally broadcast Dec. 9, 2011) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Filed Under:

Birds Change Tunes To Adapt To The Urban Jungle (Originally broadcast Dec. 9, 2011)

Play associated audio
Birds have developed a creative coping mechanism to communicate in urban environments.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/akandbdl/6467546145/
Birds have developed a creative coping mechanism to communicate in urban environments.

A large part of being a bird is singing -- and it's not just to pass the time. Bird songs are often sung to attract the attention of other birds -- specifically, those of the opposite sex.  

But as it turns out, urban birds, including those populating the streets of D.C., have been changing their bird songs that they often use to "pick up" their prospective mates. The dull roar of city life is affecting how birds sing their songs, according to Peter Marra, conservation scientist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. 

"Urban noise changes the low frequency, or the low-pitch sounds that birds produce," says Marra. "So birds with lower songs have to sing differently. Those low-pitch songs decline in five out of six species we looked at because those sounds compete. So birds have changed their songs to higher frequency songs."

For instance, the pitch of the Carolina wren in an urban setting has lost a lot of its low frequency sound, whereas the Carolina wren in a rural setting has maintained its low frequency sound, explains Marra.

But singing over traffic and other city noise isn't the only problem for birds. It turns out that big buildings distort bird songs as well. The sound bounces off the buildings, which absorb and refract bird songs.

So what does this all mean for the bird's prospects?  At this point, it's unclear, says Marra. He says animals are adjusting their communication -- changing their accents and the way they speak -- but to what degree this change is affecting the survival of their species is still being studied.

Urban environments pose many challenges for animals, explains Marra, and researchers are just now starting to quantify those challenges. It's not just about where animals nest or eat; it's also about how well they can communicate in this urban jungle.


Urban Carolina Wren:

Rural Carolina Wren:


[Music: "Sing Sing Sing" by Incredible Bongo Band from Bongo Rock]

Bird Songs
NPR

Not My Job: Skier Mikaela Shiffrin Gets Quizzed On Downhill Cheese Races

If you think downhill ski racing is dangerous, then you've never seen the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Races, in which competitors hurl their bodies down a steep hill, chasing a wheel of cheese.
NPR

Spread Of Palm Oil Production Into Africa Threatens Great Apes

Palm oil growers are setting their sights on Africa as they amp up production. More than half of the land that's been set aside for plantations in Africa overlaps with ape habitats, researchers say.
WAMU 88.5

Democrats Push To Overturn Hobby Lobby Ruling

Virginia's Tim Kaine and other Democrats are trying to overturn the ruling with legislation they say will protect female workers.
NPR

Friday Feline Fun: A Ranking Of The Most Famous Internet Cats

Forget the Forbes Celebrity 100. This is the Friskies 50 — the new definitive guide of the most influential cats on the Internet. The list is based on a measure of the cats' social media reach.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.