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Birds sang a ‘sexier’ tune during San Francisco’s coronavirus lockdown, study finds

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Curious animals meet face-to-face in zoos, aquariums

While zoos and aquariums are closed due to the pandemic, animals are getting a close-up look at species they’ve never seen.

A new study found that sparrows in San Francisco altered their birdsong to sound more appealing to mates after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city.

The study, published Thursday in peer-reviewed journal Science, analyzed the birdsong of the white-crowned sparrow, a bird common in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Amid the din of traffic and other noise in the urban metropolitan areas, the birdsong of the white-crowned sparrow, a bird common in the San Francisco Bay Area, is sung much more loudly in order to be heard by potential mates. This is a phenomenon known as the Lombard effect.

While it allows for male birds to be heard without being drowned out, the trill cannot reach a wide range, nor is it appealing to prospective partners.

But when the pandemic hit — and vehicle traffic and noise slowed down — researchers found that noise levels in San Francisco and other urban parts of the Bay Area drastically reduced by nearly 50 percent. The shutdown, they write, effectively reversed “more than a half-century rise in noise pollution.”

The birdsongs, as a result, began singing more quietly, hitting lower notes and improving their vocal performance. Elizabeth Derryberry, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Tennessee, told AFP that the birds “sounded better, they sounded sexier” to mates. 

Due to the reduced noise levels, the sparrow’s songs could even be heard from a farther distance.

This is among one of the many ways in which animals globally have adapted their habits during the pandemic. When people stay home, animals are able to roam around freely and in some cases, even rest on manmade roads.

The researchers also found that the sparrows’ ability to adapt their birdsong bodes well for animal survival in urban areas, with the potential for “demographic recovery and higher species diversity.”

Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote.

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