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Noisy neighbours impact bird behaviour

We all hate noisy neighbours. They keep you awake, ruin your leisure time and cause unseemly disputes. Humans treasure their peace and quiet and so do birds. It has become obvious that human activity has negatively impacted birds but it isn’t only the loss of natural habitats which is causing a problem.
The latest research has demonstrated that noise pollution is also a serious issue and one which has largely been overlooked until now.

Human noise prevents birds from communicating

Human activity is troubling for birds in every possible way. We build on avian habitats, remove hedgerows and field margins form agricultural land, destroy woodland and construct wind farms. Little wonder that so many species are in decline. Now a study by has highlighted that the noise we make prevents birds from communicating with each other.

The study looked at Robins, probably this nation’s favourite birds. They found that background noise resulting from human activity masks communication between the birds, causing confusion. This could be affecting reproduction and the development of normal behaviour.

Experiments were conducted during which birds were exposed to playbacks of birdsong with and without noise pollution. The researchers found that song complexity was used as a signal of aggressive intent but that added noise disrupted the process.

Bird’s can’t interpret aggressive intent

Human noise disrupts the information passed between birds because it masks the complexity of the songs. Birdsong is vital in the process of acquiring resources and territory for nesting. Birds compete for nesting sites and if they can’t interpret their opponent’s intent, they could give up their fight too easily or fight on when they don’t need to. People shout louder when they are angry, robins deliver more complex songs.

Increasing concern for UK wildlife

With one in ten of our native wildlife species at risk of extinction, there is increasing concern for many animals. The way we live affects our birds and we clearly don’t yet fully understand the extent to which we are influencing their behaviour.

Noise pollution is everywhere

Birds which are already trying to overcome the challenges of habitat loss and pesticide use are living alongside motorways, construction sites and factories. Aeroplanes fly overhead and motorcycles roar along country lanes. Noise is everywhere and prevents birds from communicating their messages to each other. It’s another cross that birds must bear and will inevitably be adding to the shocking decline in avian populations.

Is noise pollution an insoluble problem?

How ironic it is that even where there are birds creating a dawn chorus, they often can’t hear each other properly. Further research is required to establish the extent to which bird behaviour is influenced by noise pollution. It is hard to imagine that this will reveal good news. Then there is the question of how we are to overcome this issue.

Electric cars offer some hope but aeroplanes will keep flying and the general hubbub of life will continue. Those who care little about deafening their human neighbours are unlikely to be worried about the robins in their backyards. If the birds are to be saved, we might require the demise of a significant species – humans.


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