city bird, country bird

It’s a cliche that people who live in large cities generally talk faster and louder than their rural counterparts. And it looks like city birds also sing differently than their country cousins. In the July 17 Nature, Hans Slabbekoorn and Margriet Peet of Leiden University in the Netherlands report that urban great tits generally sing higher notes than rural great tits. (For any snickering 12-year-old, a great tit is a bird common in Europe that looks a little like a black-capped chickadee.) The birds do so, say the researchers, to make sure that their mating songs are heard above the low-frequency noise pollution of planes, automobiles, and other urban racket. Great tits in quieter locales, in contrast, sing more low-frequency notes. The researchers write: “Our findings show, to our knowledge for the first time, that human-altered environments might change the communication signals of a wild bird species.” They also worry that bird species that can’t adjust their songs to human noise may suffer breeding declines.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 7/22/2003.
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