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If You Can be Loud, So Can Bluebirds

Aug 21, 2015 06:29 PM EDT
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Backed-up traffic doesn't keep bluebirds down. As you honk your horn or yell in frustration, bluebirds simply sing over your loud noises, to produce both louder and lower-pitched songs to be heard by their friends or foes. 

Researchers from the University of Exeter found that the birds were able to make "real-time" adjustments to their songs immediately after background noises, such as traffic, intensified.

The study was led by Dr Caitlin Kight, a behavioural ecologist based at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall. From this work, Kight suggests we can learn about environmental constraints on animal communication and how to lessen humans' impact on animals.

"Although many manmade noise regimes are often very different from those found in nature, there can be surprising similarities in certain features, including volume, pitch, or timing. Sounds caused by traffic, for example, may not be hugely different from those produced by waterfalls or heavy winds. Animals that evolved in habitats with those natural features may therefore already have, within their existing repertoires of behaviours, the flexibility to respond to noise pollution. This certainly seems to be the case with bluebirds," Kight said in a statement.

Previous research suggested that birds that lived in noisier areas sang differently; however, this study is the first to prove that the birds are in fact able to make vocal adjustments in real time. Their research is published in the journal, Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Kight and the researchers recorded tTwo songs, from each of the 32 male bluebirds, were recorded during both the quietest and loudest period of ambient noise and analyzed by Kight. Their The birds' ability to respond to an increase in surrounding noise enables them to produce songs more likely to be heard by potential mates or rivals.

"Unfortunately, the world is getting so noisy that even the most flexible of species will eventually reach a threshold beyond which they will have difficulty communicating--which will impact their ability to breed successfully," explainedCoexplained co-author Dr John Swaddle, from The College of William and Mary, in a statement. "When we build roads and airports near human neighborhoods, we employ noise abatement protocols in an effort to mitigate against the negative impacts of noise pollution. It is time to apply similar caution to conservation, management, and landscaping plans that impact wildlife and their habitats."

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