3aAB7 – Construction Noise Impact on Wild Birds – Pasquale Bottalico, PhD.

3aAB7 – Construction Noise Impact on Wild Birds – Pasquale Bottalico, PhD.

Construction Noise Impact on Wild Birds

Pasquale Bottalico, PhD. – pb@msu.edu

Voice Biomechanics and Acoustics Laboratory
Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders
College of Communication Arts & Sciences
Michigan State University
1026 Red Cedar Road
East Lansing, MI 48824


Popular version of paper 3aAB7, “Construction noise impact on wild birds”
Presented Tuesday morning, May 25, 2016, 10:20, Salon I
171st ASA Meeting, Salt Lake City



Almost all bird species use acoustic signals to communicate or recognize biological signals – to mate, to detect the sounds of predators and/or prey, to perform mate selection, to defend their territory, and to perform social activities. Noise generated from human activities (in particular by infrastructure and construction sites) has a strong impact on the physiology and behaviour of birds. In this work, a quantitative method for evaluating the impact of noise on wild birds is proposed. The method combines the results of previous studies that considered the effect of noise on birds and involved noise mapping evaluations. A forecast noise simulation was used to generate maps of (1) masking-annoyance areas and (2) potential density variation.

An example of application of the masking-annoyance areas method is shown in Figure 1. If a bird is in the Zone 1 (in purple), traffic noise and construction noise can potentially result in hearing loss and threshold shift. A temporary elevation of the bird’s hearing threshold and a masking of important communication signals can occur in the Zone 2 (in red). Zone 3 (in orange), 4 (in yellow) and 5 (in light green) are characterized by a high, medium and low level of signal masking, respectively. Once the level of noise generated by human activities falls below ambient noise levels in the critical frequencies for communication (2–8 kHz), masking of communication signals is no longer an issue. However, low-frequency noise, such as the rumble of a truck, may still potentially cause other behavioural and/or physiological effects (Zone 6, in green). No effects of any kind occur on the birds in Zone 7 (in dark green). The roles for Zone definition are based on the results of Dooling and Popper. [1]


Figure 1 Mapping of the interaction areas of noise effect on birds within the 7 zones for a project without (a) and with mitigations (b).

Figure 1 Mapping of the interaction areas of noise effect on birds within the 7 zones for a project without (a) and with mitigations (b).

Waterman et al. [2] and Reijnem et al. [3-4-5] proposed a trend of the potential variation in birds density in relationship with the noise levels present in the area. This trend shows no effect on density when the noise levels are lower than 45 dB(A), while there is a rapid decrease (with a quadratic shape) for higher levels. An example of the potential decrease in bird density for a project with and without mitigations is shown in Figure 2. The blue areas are the areas where the birds’ density is not influenced by the noise, while the red ones are the areas from where the birds are leaving because the noise levels are too high.

This methodology permits a localization of the areas with greater impacts on birds. The mitigation interventions should be focused on these areas in order to balance bird habitat conservation and human use of land.


Figure 2 Potential decrease in bird density for a project without (a) and with mitigations (b).


Figure 2 Potential decrease in bird density for a project without (a) and with mitigations (b).



  1. R. J. Dooling and A. N. Popper, The effects of highway noise on birds, Report prepared for The California Department of Transportation Division of Environmental Analysis, (2007).
  2. E. Waterman, I. Tulp, R. Reijnen, K. Krijgsveld and C. ter Braak, “Noise disturbance of meadow birds by railway noise”, Inter-Noise2004, (2004).
  3. R. Reijnen and R. Foppen, “The effects of car traffic on breeding bird populations in woodland. IV. Influence of population size on the reduction of density close to the highway”, J. Appl. Ecol. 32(3), 481-491, (1995).
  4. R. Reijnen, R. Foppen, C. ter Braak and J. Thissen, “The effects of car traffic on breeding bird populations in Woodland. III. Reduction of density in relation to the proximity of main roads”, J. Appl. Ecol. 32(1), 187-202, (1995).
  5. R. Reijnen, G. Veenbaas and R. Foppen, Predicting the Effects of Motorway Traffic on Breeding Bird Populations. Ministry of Transport and Public Works, Delft, Netherlands, (1995).


4aAB2 – “Seemingly simple songs: Black-capped chickadee song revisited” –  Allison H. Hahn – Christopher B. Sturdy

4aAB2 – “Seemingly simple songs: Black-capped chickadee song revisited” – Allison H. Hahn – Christopher B. Sturdy

Seemingly simple songs: Black-capped chickadee song revisited” –

Allison H. Hahn – ahhahn@ualberta.ca
Christopher B. Sturdy – csturdy@ualberta.ca


University of Alberta

Edmonton, AB, Canada


Popular version of paper 4aAB2, “Seemingly simple songs: Black-capped chickadee song revisited”
Presented Thursday morning, November 5, 8:55 AM, City Terrace Room
170th ASA Meeting, Jacksonville, Fl


Vocal communication is a mode of communication important to many animal species, including humans. Over the past 60 years, songbird vocal communication has been widely-studied, largely because the invention of the sound spectrograph allows researchers to visually represent vocalizations and make precise acoustic measurements. Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus; Figure 1) are one example of a songbird whose song has been well-studied. Black-capped chickadees produce a short (less than 2 seconds), whistled fee-bee song. Compared to the songs produced by many songbird species, which often contain numerous note types without a fixed order, black-capped chickadee song is relatively simple, containing two notes produced in the same order during each song rendition. Although the songs appear to be acoustically simple, they contain a rich variety of information about the singer including: dominance rank, geographic location, and individual identity [1,2,3].

Interestingly, while songbird song has been widely-examined, most of the focus (at least for North Temperate Zone species) has been on male-produced song, largely because it was thought that only males actually produced song. However, more recently, there has been mounting evidence that in many songbird species, both males and females produce song [4,5]. In the study of black-capped chickadees, the focus has also been on male-produced song. However, recently, we reported that female black-capped chickadees also produce fee-bee song. One possible reason that female song has not been extensively reported is that to human vision, male and female chickadees are visually identical, so females that are singing may be mistakenly identified as male. However, by identifying a bird’s sex (via DNA analysis) and recording both males and females, our work [6] has shown that female black-capped chickadees do produce fee-bee song. Additionally, these songs are overall acoustically similar to male song (songs of both sexes contain two whistled notes; see Figure 2), making vocal discrimination by humans difficult.

Our next objective was to determine if any acoustic features varied between male and female songs. Using bioacoustic techniques, we were able to demonstrate that there are acoustic differences in male and female song, with females producing songs that contain a greater frequency decrease in the first note compared to male songs (Figure 2). These results demonstrate that there are sufficient acoustic differences to allow birds to identify the sex of a signing individual even in the absence of visual cues. Because birds may live in densely wooded environments, in which visual, but not auditory, cues are often obscured, being able to identify the sex of a bird (and whether the singer is a potential mate or territory rival) would be an important ability.

Following our bioacoustic analysis, an important next step was to determine whether birds are able to distinguish between male and female songs. In order to examine this, we used a behavioral paradigm that is common in animal learning studies: operant conditioning. By using this task, we were able to demonstrate that birds can distinguish between male and female songs; however, the particular acoustic features birds use in order to discriminate between the sexes may depend on the sex of the bird that is listening to the song. Specifically, we found evidence that male subjects responded based on information in the song’s first note, while female subjects responded based on information in the song’s second note [7]. One possible reason for this difference in responding is that in the wild, males need to quickly respond to a rival male that is a territory intruder, while females may assess the entire song to gather as much information about the singing individual (for example, information regarding a potential mate’s quality). While the exact function of female song is unknown, our studies clearly indicate that female black-capped chickadees produce songs and the birds themselves can perceive differences between male and female songs.




Figure 1. An image of a black-capped chickadee.


Figure 2. Spectrogram (x-axis: time; y-axis: frequency in kHz) on a male song (top) and female song (bottom).

Sound file 1. An example of a male fee-bee song.

Sound file 2. An example of a female fee-bee song.



  1. Hoeschele, M., Moscicki, M.K., Otter, K.A., van Oort, H., Fort, K.T., Farrell, T.M., Lee, H., Robson, S.W.J., & Sturdy, C.B. (2010). Dominance signalled in an acoustic ornament. Animal Behaviour, 79, 657–664.
  2. Hahn, A.H., Guillette, L.M., Hoeschele, M., Mennill, D.J., Otter, K.A., Grava, T., Ratcliffe, L.M., & Sturdy, C.B. (2013). Dominance and geographic information contained within black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) song. Behaviour, 150, 1601-1622.
  3. Christie, P.J., Mennill, D.J., & Ratcliffe, L.M. (2004). Chickadee song structure is individually distinctive over long broadcast distances. Behaviour 141, 101–124.
  4. Langmore, N.E. (1998). Functions of duet and solo songs of female birds. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 13, 136–140.
  5. Riebel, K. (2003). The “mute” sex revisited: vocal production and perception learning in female songbirds. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 33, 49–86
  6. Hahn, A.H., Krysler, A., & Sturdy, C.B. (2013). Female song in black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus): Acoustic song features that contain individual identity information and sex differences. Behavioural Processes, 98, 98-105.
  7. Hahn, A.H., Hoang, J., McMillan, N., Campbell, K., Congdon, J., & Sturdy, C.B. (2015). Biological salience influences performance and acoustic mechanisms for the discrimination of male and female songs. Animal Behaviour, 104, 213-228.