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Noise Pollution Affects Animal Communication, Dulls Bird Response To Alarm Calls: Study

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Pollution can influence life in its many forms, obstructing our activities. Excess noise from different sources, among which traffic, can negatively influence animals trying to communicate. Due to the exposure to environmental noises, birds find it difficult to perceive alarm calls.

New research from The Condor: Ornithological Applications reveals that traffic noise can decrease the responsiveness to communication, especially alarm calls, in birds. The impact of this obstruction is essential, as alarm calls are meant to help birds avoid predators and other dangers they could come across.

Obstructions To Bird Communication

Researchers from New York's Vassar College investigated the impact of traffic noise on birds' responsiveness to alarm calls. As part of the research, the scientists employed speakers mounted near feeding platforms. They also planted bird seed in order to better capture the animals.

"Successful communication between a sender and a receiver is critical for coordinating behaviors between organisms. This coordination can be disturbed by anthropogenic noise, which has been shown to alter vocal signal production in many species of birds. In addition to affecting senders, noise may also alter reception and behavioral response," noted the research abstract.

The team used three different recordings: alarm calls, traffic noise, and a combination of these two. When used alone, traffic noise did not interfere with the birds' feeding process. However, five times more birds came to eat when the researchers used the alarm calls alone, compared to traffic noise.

The results of this study underline the effects of traffic noise on birds' capacity to capture an alarm call. This situation could put the birds in danger in various occasions, due to their impossibility to react to the messages.

"It's interesting that the birds' foraging behavior was not affected under any of the playback conditions, which suggests that the behavioral effects were due to the call playbacks being masked by noise, rather than the noise being simply aversive," noted Florida Atlantic University's Rindy Anderson, who is an expert in vocal communication in birds and was not involved in the study.

Bird Communication, Almost As Articulate As Humans'

The way birds communicate is as important to them as it is to us. Previous research suggested that birds communicate in a similar manner as humans, having their own linguistic sounds.

Among these birds, great tits are believed to be some of the most articulate, employing syntax into their communicational patterns. This linguistic trait was believed to be specific to humans only; however, it seems that birds have their own communicational rigors.

In this context, it becomes even more important not to disturb their communicational processes, as the birds' safety could be in danger.

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