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Birds that sing at dawn wake up earlier in cities

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It is not uncommon for birds´ dawn choruses to rouse those living in cities´ residential areas. A study conducted by the University of Seville shows that this phenomenon is mutual. That is to say, some urban birds, like the sparrow and the spotless starling, start singing earlier because they are awoken by anthropogenic noise.

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SINC | September 03 2013 10:01

<p>The researchers found that birds such as the black starling and house sparrow advance their singing early hours by the sound. / <a href="/en/www.flickr.comphotostambako2320931723sizesoinphotostream" target="_blank">”Tambako The Jaguar</a>.</p>

The researchers found that birds such as the black starling and house sparrow advance their singing early hours by the sound. / ”Tambako The Jaguar.

Many animal species live in urban areas where they encounter modified environmental conditions. Two of the most significant anthropogenic modifications in these areas are artificial light and traffic noise, which may affect animal life.

“Previously there had been studies examining the effect of artificial light on birdsong, but our study analyzed the effect of noise for the first time. We observed that birds like the spotless starling (Sturnus unicolor) and the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) start singing earlier for this reason,” Aída Arroyo, of the University of Seville, explains to SINC.

Researchers conducted an experiment on the streets of Seville. They observed changes in traffic noise throughout the morning in habitats occupied by birds, to see how levels of human activity altered the time of the birdsong.

There had been studies examining the effect of artificial light on birdsong, but our study analyzed the effect of noise for the first time

“Around three hours before dawn we went to these streets, where we had previously recorded the traffic noise at rush hour. We played these recordings using loudspeakers, increasing the environmental noise to approximately 65 decibels. In this way we could see the effect on the time the birds awoke, comparing it to their usual start time,” the researcher explains.

They studied the development of traffic noise from dawn to rush hour in a total of 12 streets of the Andalucian city. In the relatively noisy streets -with high basal noise levels from the early hours- the noise began earlier, with more constant traffic.

“In the birds whose dawn chorus was more precisely timed -like the sparrow, one to two hours earlier, and the starling, one hour before dawn- we have detected this move forward. Other birds have a more variable and wide-ranging start time,” Arroyo concludes. These birds started singing from 20 minutes to half an hour earlier.

In the streets which were quietest in the small hours of the morning –with short bursts of noise caused by an intermittent traffic flow- and then a significant increase in noise levels throughout the morning, this move forward was also observed, “which seems to reveal that species highly adapted to city life, like the sparrow, are very sensitive to fluctuations in anthropogenic environmental factors, in this case noise,” the expert affirms.

Referencia bibliográfica:

Aída Arroyo Solís, Jesús Manuel Castillo Segura, Manuel Enrique Figueroa Clemente, Jose Luis López Sánchez y Hans Slabbekoorn. “Experimental evidence for an impact of anthropogenic noise on dawn chorus timing in urban birds” Journal of Avian Biology 44: 288–296, 2013. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-048X.2012.05796.x

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Geographical area: España
Source: SINC

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