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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BIRDNOTE®/Urban Birds Change Their Tune

Air Date: Week of

Great Tit (photograph: Antje Schulte)

With spring in the air, birds are singing loudly to attract mates and claim territory. As Michael Stein reports in today's BirdNote®, noisy human cities are forcing urban birds to change their tunes.


CURWOOD: Well, in my garden in New Hampshire, the robins and woodpeckers and Cardinals are out and about, singing fit to beat the band, as they seek mates, claim and defend territory. But have some sympathy for birds that live in cities...our human cacophony is forcing them to change their tunes. Michael Stein has today's BirdNote®.


STEIN: This is the song of a Great Tit, one of the most familiar sounds of the European spring. The Great Tit, a relative of our chickadee, is common in the forests of Europe. Its song is more varied than the simple whistles of our chickadees.

Great Tits are also common in city gardens, where the sounds of the city
[CARS WHIZZING BY] can make the soft whistles of songbirds hard to hear. As a consequence, Great Tits in London, Paris, and Berlin have modified their behavior. They now sing at a higher pitch and faster than normal. One way they do this is to drop the lower-pitched notes from their song. Such a song carries better over the traffic noise of the city. And a bird that has shifted to a higher range is better able to declare its territory and attract a mate. Urban songs are also faster, probably so they can be repeated more often.

Great Tit at a city bird feeder. (photograph: Jean Mottershead)

Let’s listen to a forest bird [LOWER PITCH], and now its city cousin [HIGHER PITCH].

Once again, the forest bird [LOWER PITCH]. And now the city bird [HIGHER PITCH]. I’m Michael Stein.

CURWOOD: Check out some photos of garden birds at our website LOE.org.

[Written by Dennis Paulson

First two songs of the Great Tit and ambient European garden recorded by Martyn Stewart, naturesound.org

Urban / Forest Great Tit (“E” and “F”) comparison songs recorded by Hans Slabbekoorn: Leiden University, Netherlands.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2013 Tune In to Nature.or March 2013 Narrator: Michael Stein]



Birdnote® website

This story on the Birdnote® website


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