Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sparrows: Changing Their Tune to be Heard

I'm sure we all know the frustration, trying to talk to someone in a loud area and constantly screaming, "What did you say?! Can you repeat that??" Most times people either have to shout louder, or just have the conversation later in a quieter area. Believe it or not, our fellow wildlife deals with the same problems. Only, they figured out a permanent solution for dealing with the issue.

It has been shown that there is a strong link between the change in song and the change in noise, in the sparrows of San Fransisco's Presidio district. The current study being done tracks bird songs from as far back as 1969 up until current day. Researchers also know how San Fransisco's streets have become much noisier based on studies done in 1974 and 2008. The quiet areas that these birds once lived in are now filled with noise pollution. The sparrows in return, have made themselves louder. The birds used to have a low hum which would work, until a car came along and covered up the sound. Now they have one primary high-range dialect. The birds have adapted because these songs are their form of communication. It is how the attract mates, as well as warn each other of predators. When these calls can't be heard, the sparrows start running into trouble. Compared to the calls recorded in 1969, the calls of today are not only louder but they sound more threatening. These birds are much more defensive, which is understandable due to their current surrounds. A lot of animals have a hard time surviving when rural areas become cities, but this is just another example of natural selection at its finest.

Taylor Pirog(2)


  1. Interesting article. This is a great example of natural selection of animals having to adapt to the constant changes made by the human race. Although the increase in loudness of the birds may seem harmless, is it actually? Does this increased threatening noise scare off mates or does it help to their advantage scaring off predators? Although natural selection is constantly occuring, is there going to become a time when animals can no longer adapt to the changes and additon of technology produced by the human race?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. I know evolution is constant, but is there a possibility that we could get to the point where the bird can't physically produce sounds any louder? I wonder if they'll produce a new trait as a trade off.

      Taylor Pirog (2)

  2. This is an eye opening article. We are always hearing about how our pollution and construction are hurting the birds and animals around us. However we never hear about how we are affecting their most basic behaviors, like their songs. I thought that it was really interesting how they conducted one of their experiments. How they put the bird songs from different eras on shuffle and then observed how the sparrows reacted. I am now interested to see if I can hear more aggressive bird sounds in the city as opposed to the country.

    Posted By Erica Bonnell(1)

  3. fascinating. I mean I know how people are worried about climate change and how our cities and buildings might threatened species habitat and their population. This is a concern which we have to take seriously and consider our actions. However, what we hardly think about is that species, as they have done for many many years now, will adapt and evolve to be able to survive and reproduce in the current conditions. This hardly means that we can afford to let down our efforts in trying to conserve and protect our environment.

    -Hermann Kam

  4. I wonder if you got your idea for this article off another project recently done because i remember reading something very similar a few weeks ago. It is an interesting subject. It's funny to think the animals are having the same struggles that we have. It's even more clever that they have come up with a way to fix the problem, unlike us humans. The article left me wanting to know more about the sound the birds make. Maybe i'll look it up on youtube.

    Posted by Jen Silva (3)

  5. Birds and their songs are an incredibly interesting subject. I know the Podos lab at UMass is doing research on how birds imitate the songs they hear around them, it makes me wonder if birds may be smarter than we think.

    Mike Selden (3)