Researchers find songbirds changing their tune due to noise pollution
Savannah sparrows in Alberta are changing their song notes due to noise pollution from oil machinery
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Same songbird, different tune.
Two researchers from the University of Manitoba have found that noise pollution from oil and gas operations in southern Alberta causes the savannah sparrow, a migratory bird, to change its pitch to better communicate over the noise of oil machinery.
“Basically the birds are altering their songs in order to change the sound characteristics to get the ideas across better,” said Nicola Koper, a researcher at the University of Manitoba’s natural resources department.
“We found that they use different techniques, they change their techniques to a greater or lesser degree (based on) what kind of oil structure that is.”
Koper and her colleague Miya Warrington conducted the research over a two-year period, studying the birds during their breeding season (May - July).
She says they found that depending on the nearby machinery, the birds have been altering their tunes, adding either a high pitch or low pitch note to get their message across over the oil pump noise.
Koper says the savannah sparrow is found all over North America in prairie areas, including roadsides and open lot areas around Edmonton.
“I can absolutely be certain that birds in the Edmonton area also change their songs in the noisy areas compared to the more grassy areas,” she said.
Dr. Erin Bayne, a professor in biological sciences at the University of Alberta, is supervising a similar research study around north Edmonton with Lincoln’s sparrows.
He says there are studies available showing birds that remain in an area all-year round change their tunes due to noise pollution, but there has been little research done for migratory birds.
“We are looking at if they change their song, how fast do they do it?” Bayne said. “The day that they arrive back from migration, what song do they sing and does that song change over the length of the season, and are they learning on the fly how to change it to be heard?”
Since the research started last year, Bayne says they won’t have conclusive answers until next year.
He says it’s important to note that animals generally prefer being away from human-produced noises as chronic noise can affect any animal’s mental and even physical health.
“Generally human-induced sounds are rapidly increasing across the planet, wilderness areas that once were silent ... are being affected by noise,” said Bayne.
“It’s a broad problem that’s far beyond just the birds.”