Chaffinches repeat their songs to make themselves heard in noisy places, the first songbird species shown to do so.
Dr Henrik Brumm, a German Research Foundation Research Fellow based in the University of St Andrews’ School of Biology, studied wild birds in open woodland in several sites in Aberdeenshire, Perth and Kinross and Fife.
Dr Brumm recorded their songs and measured the natural background noise in the birds’ territories and found that males in noisier places – for example, close to waterfalls and torrents – repeated each song type more often before switching to a new song type.
The finding suggests that the birds repeated their songs to get their messages across in noisy places. By singing the same song a number of times, the birds will increase the probability of making themselves heard. This is crucial for singing males because they use their songs to attract females and to defend their territories against rival males.
Dr Brumm explained, “It is important to understand whether and how animals can cope with interference from noise, as this world is becoming increasingly noisy because of progressing urbanisation and increasing amounts of traffic. Our findings show that singing birds are able to counteract noise but they are limited in their capacity to do so. If noise levels rise too much, the birds will simply be drowned out.”
The chaffinch study, carried out in collaboration with Professor Peter Slater (also from the School of Biology, University of St Andrews), is published in the scientific journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology (available online at http://www.springerlink.com/link.as p?id=100464).
NOTE TO EDITORS
Dr Brumm is available on telephone 01334 463615.
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