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Birds Are Singing a Different Tune

Marion Charatan

Posted on September 27, 2020 15:10

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Even our feathered friends are impacted by the pandemic -- as proven when researchers listened to how birds are communicating now.

The 2020 pandemic continues to take a toll on everyone. Daily habits have changed. For instance, I would never have thought of not touching doorknobs or elevator buttons -- but now, I gingerly use my sleeve to open a door or a key to push a button.

It's sad I don't feel comfortable hugging a friend now or talking shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger, even when I'm wearing a mask. When a safe vaccine is available, I hope it will increase herd immunity and some restrictions may be lifted.

I don't know if we will ever be able to return to life as it was before the COVID-19 infection. Time will tell if masks become permanent accessories in our wardrobes. 

There are even more challenges that are pandemic byproducts. If you are unfortunate enough to have a compromised immune system, it makes it very risky to engage in everyday activities. And I feel for folks with children at home. The stresses of homeschooling while maintaining a job must be enormous. 

Turning to our animal friends, I just read an interesting piece by Mallory Hughes of CNN that birds have started to sing differently in the quieter environment resulting from the pandemic -- with less traffic, people moving around and reduced industrial production.

Hughes cited a study in Science Magazine that claimed birds in the San Francisco area are singing a different tune. Researchers said, "In other words, the Covid-19 shutdown created a proverbial silent spring across the SF Bay Area." 

An analysis done of traffic flow over the San Francisco Bridge determined that noise levels are much lower now than they've been in almost 50 years. In fact, car noises measured from April to May of 2020 matched audio levels from 1954.

This noticeable decrease in urban din has impacted birds' communication techniques. They have lowered their volume but have shown "higher performance" in audio output. Researchers assert "We found that birds sang more softly when noise levels were lower and at shorter recording distances before and during the shutdown." 

But an interesting byproduct of the change is although the birds' sounds were softer, communication distances were nearly twice as long. Biologists believe that these factors have increased the species' fitness and mating potential. Could this mean we will see a rise in the bird population?

Scientists also pointed out that bird sounds might appear louder to some because the signal-to-noise ratio has doubled in relative energy. But in reality, birds are toning their singing volume down. It makes sense to me. If a room is noisy we talk louder but when it's quiet, we lower our tone. 

The noise all around me has changed. In Seattle, there is always the din of never-ending police and ambulance sirens. I had a neighbor say it was driving her crazy. I can relate to that. It is jarring. 

2020 has been the most challenging year. We are all feeling it -- just like our vertebrate friends flying above us. 

Marion Charatan

Posted on September 27, 2020 15:10

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