Do Those Birds Sound Louder To You? An Ornithologist Says You're Just Hearing Things : Coronavirus Updates Think of how it works in a noisy bar: people raise their voices to be heard. Same for birds. With less background noise outside these days, it's likely that birds are actually singing more quietly.

Do Those Birds Sound Louder To You? An Ornithologist Says You're Just Hearing Things

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With life at a standstill, have you noticed birds singing more? Seems to be happening all over the world. So we called Sue Anne Zollinger. She's an ornithologist at Manchester Metropolitan University in the U.K. And I asked her what's going on.

SUE ANNE ZOLLINGER: Actually, although our perception might be that they're singing louder, it's actually likely, in noisy - places that are typically noisy that they're singing more quietly than normal, because this increased level of background noise, like it does for us if we're standing on a noisy street corner or in a noisy bar, they would normally elevate how loud they're communicating or their song levels. And when the noise is gone, they're probably singing quieter than they do normally.

GREENE: Oh, that's crazy. So you're saying that we might think that they're singing more loudly because we're noticing it more. But in this climate, it might actually be the opposite. They have less noise to compete with.

ZOLLINGER: That's right. We know from some earlier studies in the city of Berlin that birds sing quieter on the weekend mornings during the time that's normally rush hour than they do during rush hour during the week because the noise levels are lower. And that's probably what's happening now.

GREENE: So I was told by my colleagues that you brought us some sound that you wanted to play for us. Can you start off by telling me exactly what it is and where you gathered this audio?

ZOLLINGER: So I live fairly close to the airport. And so when I'm out walking my dog on my one walk a day (laugher), I recorded birds there. It's usually really noisy there. And now there's very few airline traffic. So the bird in the recording is a chiffchaff. And in the first recording, he's singing without any background noise. And in the second recording, he's singing while a airplane goes overhead.


GREENE: OK. And then we're going to hear with the sound of airplane noise that's more common in this area.


GREENE: Wow. I totally see what you mean. Without the extra noise, it sounds like they're singing more loudly because I'm noticing it more. But you're saying we're hearing something that's in the opposite direction.

ZOLLINGER: Yeah, exactly. So in the recording when there's no background noise, the bird's singing about 60 decibel, measured at where I was standing, which was about six meters or six yards away from the bird. And when the plane goes over, he kind of almost doubles how loud he's singing.

GREENE: So you spend a lot of time, obviously, studying nature. Do you think we'll have a different relationship with nature or a different appreciation as we emerge from this crisis?

ZOLLINGER: I think we tend to take it for granted or undervalue it. And it's a nice time, when everything stops, to realize how it's there. And it's even there in the cities. And we often don't see it because we're there. And we're busy. And we're doing what we're doing, rushing around being humans. And that when we pause all of that stuff, we start to see this kind of activity that's kind of going on around us.

GREENE: Sue Anne Zollinger is an ornithologist at Manchester University in the U.K. Thanks so much.

ZOLLINGER: My pleasure.


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