Man-made noise stopping birds from communicating

Birdsong being drowned out, research from Queen’s University finds

Man-made noise pollution is making it difficult for birds to communicate with each other and it could lead to a severe decline in numbers, new research from Queen’s University Belfast has found.

In spring, birds use song to show aggressiveness and to attain territory for nesting and breeding, but this is becoming tougher due to noisy conditions created by humans. The findings have been published in Biology Letters.

Dr Gareth Arnott, senior lecturer and researcher from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, studied bird song in detail and found that background noise can mask crucial information.

“Sound is a great form of bird communication because it can carry beyond where birds can see,” he said.


“Singing is one of the most common ways birds advertise that a territory belongs to them, and birds will perch near the edge of their territory to broadcast their claim to the maximum range. A strong, vibrant song will help defend a territory from intruders and attract a mate.”

However, Dr Arnott and his team have discovered man-made noise is disrupting them from being able to hear and understand each other clearly.

‘Crucial information’

“We found that birdsong structure can communicate aggressive intent, enabling birds to assess their opponent, but human-made noise can disrupt this crucial information passed between them by masking the complexity of their songs used for acquiring resources, such as territory and space for nesting,” he said.

“As a result, the birds receive incomplete information on their opponent’s intent and do not appropriately adjust their response.”

The authors said the findings “raise concerns” about the ability of birds to compete for resources under the growing extent of noise from human activities.

The study also shows that bird song is crucial to the survival and reproduction of birds and there are important implications to consider around noise pollution and the protection of wildlife.

‘Noise pollution’

“The study is evidence that human-made noise pollution impacts animal habitats and directly influences their ability to communicate properly, which may have implications for survival and population numbers for birds,” said Dr Arnott.

“This must be further investigated in order to protect our valued biodiversity.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter