If a sparrow sings his heart out on an oil field, but his would-be sweetheart can’t hear him above the oil pumps, what’s a bird to do?
In Alberta, Canada, researchers analyzed hundreds of hours of Savannah sparrow love songs and discovered something extraordinary: To be heard above the din, the birds are changing their tune in complex ways that scientists are only starting to understand.
“They’re tailoring their songs depending on which part of their message is the most affected,” said Miyako Warrington, a University of Manitoba biologist who led a recent study on how sparrows cope with noise from the oil and gas infrastructure that dots Canada’s landscape. “This seems to show a complex level of adaptation. It’s not just everybody talking louder.”
Dr. Warrington is one of a growing number of scholars who study the noise generated by human activity — drills, turbines, roaring jet engines — and how that affects the natural world around us.