Noise Pollution Turns Urban Birds Into Bad Parents

It’s hard to be a parent. I’m not one myself, but I’ve seen my friends struggle to hold a conversation, open a car door or navigate the grocery store with kids in tow. There are always shoes to be tied, arguments to break up and fingers to be plucked away from the million dangerous objects within reach when you’re two feet tall and curious. Distractions, like talking on the phone or trying to watch a movie, only up the ante for disaster.

Turns out, the same thing is true in nature. A recent study from the University of Sheffield found that noise from traffic, construction and power generators has a significant negative impact on the level of attention urban birds pay to their chicks. Experts say the noise drowns out the chirping of hungry chicks, leaving parents oblivious to the needs of their young.

“It can have implications for all bird species that experience urban noise. Our study shows the first evidence for noise affecting breeding success in birds by interrupting communication between parents and offspring in a wild population,” says Julia Schroeder, of Sheffield’s department of animal and plant sciences.

The researchers were inspired to conduct this study after learning that numbers of breeding sparrows in the UK have declined by 60 to 99 percent in some areas. To help them determine the cause for this decline, scientists studied long-term data from a population of house sparrows living on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. They found that sparrow nests in areas affected by noise from large power generators produced fewer baby birds, of lower body mass, than those raised in quiet barns or a small wooded area on the island. When the generator noise was switched off, broods in the nosier areas were fed more often.

“Also, individual females provided their young with food less often when they bred in the noisy area compared to breeding attempts by the same females elsewhere,” write the researchers. “Furthermore, we show that females reacted flexibly to increased noise levels by adjusting their provisioning rate in the short term, which suggests that noise may be a causal factor that reduces reproductive output.”

These findings are particularly useful to those working to replenish wild bird populations, particularly in and around urban areas. The scientists say that to ensure successful breeding seasons, nest boxes should be put up as far away from noise as possible but suspect that only an overall reduction of urban noise will have a quantifiable impact.


Related Reading:

Sparrows Tweet Louder To Drown Out City Noise

Communication Towers Kill Nearly 7 Million Birds A Year

New York City Subway Uses Birds Sounds To Ward Off Pigeons


Image via Thinkstock


Julie Botsch
Julie Botsch5 years ago

Thank you for the info. Petition Signed.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Urban noise hurts everyone. Turn it off.

Richard T.
Richard T6 years ago

bad noise!

Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Melania Padilla
Melania P6 years ago

Sad... Petition signed.

Isabel Araujo
Isabel Araujo6 years ago

Noise pllution is a great problem for every living creature, no doubt about it. Petition signed, thank you.

Bailey Mauldin
Nathan M6 years ago

"Off course the noise bother the birds, but it also bother the people. After a while you get used to it and can start living normally again, and hopefully so will the birds."

We, as humans, have the ability to *yell louder.* These baby birds cannot chirp with more gusto; they're already doing their best to let mom know they're hungry. That is a silly comment.
The answer is not just "they should adapt." It's that *we* should adapt. More public transport (and therefore less vehicles in general), more integration of bike-friendly roads, more train and trolley systems, and less new construction (ie, less urban sprawl when possible) would all reduce the ridiculous amount of noise outputs of the city. Additionally, these things would all reduce our carbon footprint, because they are a lot more efficient use of petroleum products, if they use them at all. Given our dependence on a substance that *isn't* renewable and *is* running out faster than its price implies, I'd say these would be all-around good ideas.

Lauren A.
Lauren A6 years ago

I'd never even though about this as a possible problem!
Interesting article, thanks!

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch6 years ago


Erika M.
Erika M6 years ago

how sad