How City Noise Is Reshaping Birdsong

Scientific American – Did you know birds sing in dialect? They do. The song of a great tit from the countryside is a far cry from that of his city cousin. And some song dialects can change nearly as fast as human slang—the Indigo Bunting changes tune from year to year.

To investigate the cultural evolution of such songs researchers have recently completed a study of adjacent White-crowned sparrow dialects from 1969 to 1998 in San Francisco. Biologist David Luther of the University of Maryland and ornithologist Luis Baptista of the California Academy of Sciences hypothesized that the pressures of urban noise would tend, over time, to eliminate the lower ranges of the bird’s song and cause the sparrows to prefer to learn songs at the higher range. Simply put, birds that sang too low would be drowned out by rumbling buses, honking cars, or other typical city noises.

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