Study shows songbird prefers singing in harmonic series similar to humans

 Hermit Trush. Credit: Daniel Berganza/Wikimedia

Hermit Trush. Credit: Daniel Berganza/Wikimedia

A team of researchers with members from Germany, the U.S. and Austria has found that male hermit thrush appear to sing following a harmonic series similar to the way humans produce music. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes how they studied bird songs recorded by various people over the past half century and then compared the way the birds sang to the way people create music. Continue reading

Wild Birds’ Songs, Feather Colors Changed by Mercury Contamination

WAYNESBORO, Virginia—Standing in the woods along the South River, Kelly Hallinger held the microphone up to capture the cacophony of songs, one at a time: the urgent, effervescent voice of the house wren; the teakettle whistle of the Carolina wren; and the sharp, shrill notes of the song sparrow. (Read More Here)


Methods to prevent repeat of bird kill from gas flare weeks away: manager

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – A manager at the Canaport liquefied natural gas facility in Saint John says there’s little it can do in the next few weeks to prevent more migrating birds from flying into a flare that’s burning at the plant.

Fraser Forsythe said Thursday the latest estimate is that about 7,500 migrating birds died while the company was burning off excess gas at the facility on Friday and Saturday. Continue reading

Why are the birds not singing? Calvin biology professor and students investigate

Calvin College biology professor Darren Proppe and a team of Calvin students spent the summer investigating the effects of human noise on songbirds

Darren Proppe

Darren Proppe

Earlier this year, Calvin biology professor Darren S. Proppe drew worldwide attention when an article he co-authored, “Anthropogenic Noise Decreases Urban Songbird Diversity and May Contribute to Homogenization,” was published in the prestigious journal Global Change Biology.

The article demonstrates that urban areas with high noise levels in urban areas had fewer species of birds.  It suggests that higher noise levels negatively affected female birds’ ability to hear male birds’ songs, thus negatively affecting their ability to mate.

After the article’s publication, Proppe’s findings were reported by various media outlets, including the BBC online, and National Geographic’s online News Watch as well as Radio Canada and Chile’s El Murcurio newspaper.

This summer, Proppe, with the assistance of Calvin junior Emily Finch and seniors Jenna Kennedy and Dean Pettinga, has continued his research on the effect of urban noise on bird behavior.

Proppe and his student assistants have been working on two projects, one focusing on the timing of bird singing, the other on bird foraging behavior.

The first project, based at Pierce Cedar Creek in Hastings, involved Proppe and Finch playing traffic noise at dawn–the peak time when birds sing–in otherwise quiet locations and observing how this noise affects bird singing. Proppe and Finch played noise for one hour, with three one-minute gaps of silence within that hour.

Proppe and Finch have collected their data and continue to analyze it. They hope to discover if birds sing more during the gaps and will use their findings to investigate whether controlling traffic levels can affect the behavior of different bird species.

Proppe, Kennedy and Pettinga researched bird foraging at birdfeeders in back yards throughout Grand Rapids. In this project the trio observed songbirds’ responses to two different kinds of aural stimuli.  They first played traffic noise and then played the sound of the predatory Cooper’s Hawk. They videoed and monitored the songbirds’ behavior response to the different stimuli.

Preliminary results from this research suggest that songbirds are less likely to respond to predator calls when they are embedded in traffic noise.  Proppe postulates that traffic noise may have life-threatening implications for songbirds, and that mitigation of noise may be important to protect them.

Proppe hopes to publish his findings in scholarly journals in the field of conservation behavior in the next year.

Proppe’s research has benefitted from Pierce Cedar Creek Institute’s Undergraduate Research Grants for the Environment (URGE), which sponsored Finch’s efforts; and the Calvin College Science Division, which sponsored Kennedy and Pettinga.

Proppe noted the professional value of the students’ summer research, calling it “the kind of thing that helps to prepare them for a career in biology research.”

Proppe also expressed satisfaction with the students’ efforts.

“I have been impressed by their ingenuity, their attention to detail and their perseverance,” he said.

Pettinga said that his research with Proppe and Kennedy caused him to view Grand Rapids from a new perspective.

“Researching within natural geographical boundaries has helped me see the Grand Rapids area and community in a new light of environmental connectivity,” he said.

Finch reflected on the value of her summer project, commenting on what she’s learned about the scientific research process, the challenges of field work and the importance of collaborative learning.

Finch concluded her thoughts by stating that her new challenge will be to transition from her summer research back into coursework.

“Now it is just a matter of getting my mind quiet again since I can’t seem to stop hearing bird songs!” she said.


Bird banding part of international study

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ALBANY — Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission scientists captured and banded song birds Monday morning in the pitch pine scrub oak barrens.

The commission is participating in an international bird conservation effort called Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship, or MAPS, coordinated by the Institute for Bird Populations, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The information from two breeding-season bird banding stations will be contributed to a global investigation by the Biodiversity Research Institute and The Nature Conservancy on environmental contamination.

Birds were banded with a unique number tag, and measurements such as weight, wing size, feather wear and how much fat on the bird along with other data was recorded before the birds were released.

The Pine Bush will hold two more bird banding sessions in early August. For information, go to


Great Tits Can Handle Climate Change: Songbirds More Resilient Than Expected

Songbirds are more resilient than we thought. New research reveals that a bird called the great tit can handle climate change far better than expected. (Photo : Flickr/Kev Chapman)

Songbirds are more resilient than we thought. New research reveals that a bird called the great tit can handle climate change far better than expected. (Photo : Flickr/Kev Chapman)

As the climate changes, species are shifting across the surface of our planet. Migration patterns are changing, breeding seasons are beginning earlier and animals are moving northward. With all of this happening, you’d think that birds would be drastically affected in a negative way. Yet new research has shown that, surprisingly, songbird populations can handle far more disrupting climate change than expected.

Spring may have started late this year, but the general trend shows an earlier spring for the last four decades. Because of this earlier spring, the seasonal timing of trees and insects also advances. Yet while trees and insects advance, songbird species such as the Parus major, also known as the great tit, lag behind.

In order to see how these seasonal changes affect songbird populations, researchers examined the great tit populations using almost 40 years of data from the songbird. More specifically, they looked at the great tit population in the Dutch National Park.

Their findings, unfortunately, didn’t seem to bode well for the birds at first. “It’s a real paradox,” said Tom Reed and Marcel Visser of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in a news release. “Due to the changing climate of the past decades, the egg laying dates of Parus major have become increasingly mismatched with the timing of the main food sources for its chicks: caterpillars.”

In fact, it turns out the seasonal timing of the food peak has advanced over twice as fast as that of the birds. This means that while the caterpillars are showing up earlier with the earlier spring, the birds haven’t quite caught up yet which, in turn, means less food for the chicks.

Despite this fact, though, population numbers don’t seem to be down that much. Upon further examination of the data, the researchers found out why. Although fewer offspring now fledge due to a food shortage, it turns out the ones that do fledge have a higher chance of survival until the next breeding season. This offsets the current feeding issue.

“We call this relaxed competition, as there are fewer fledglings to compete with,” said Reed in a news release. “It all seems so obvious once you’ve calculated this, but people were almost sure that mistiming would lead to a direct population decline.”

In fact, some of the songbirds are benefiting from the earlier springs. Some of the great tits that lay their eggs earlier in the spring are more successful than the ones that lay latter and which produce relatively few surviving offspring. This, in turn, leads to increasing selection for birds that reproduce early.

While numbers aren’t being affected yet, though, researchers estimate that they probably will be in the future. The mismatch between egg laying and caterpillar peak continues to grow, which means that the impact of the phenomenon will also increase. While birds may be able to compensate for now, the future may cause a drop in population numbers.