How does urban noise affect bird communication?

Furman University
Greenville, South Carolina
Raised of $600 Goal
Ended on 9/24/14
Campaign Ended
  • $50
  • 9%
  • Finished
    on 9/24/14

About This Project

Vehicle traffic and urbanization have altered ambient noise levels in urban and rural areas. More specifically, traffic and urbanization create a constant, low frequency noise different from most sounds in nature. Given this change, there is a need to understand the effects of an altered soundscape on how birds vocalize and more importantly communicate. In particular, if traffic noise limits communication between birds regarding predators.

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What is the context of this research?

Previous work demonstrates that birds shift their vocalizations to be heard over urban and traffic noise. At this time, however, data collected on bird vocalization outside the breeding season are limited. In this project, we will evaluate the impacts of traffic and urban noise on bird vocalizations during the winter. First we will test if birds adjust their vocalizations to communicate the presence of a predator - such as the eastern screech-owl, (Megascops asio), despite the masking of traffic noise. Initially we will focus on the alarm calls of Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) and Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor). Second we will monitor the response calls and movements of species that form mixed flocks during the winter and rely on sentinel species for predator awareness.

What is the significance of this project?

Decisions regarding land use and urban planning are changing the acoustic makeup of human and natural systems along the urban-rural gradient by adding non-natural, human produced noises to the natural sounds already present. Roads, are estimated to directly affect 22% of the area of the continental United States.

The impacts of human activities on ecosystem and human health are increasingly clear and it is obvious that monitoring and mitigation strategies are needed to improve sustainability in human populated areas.

By studying the impact of traffic noise we will provide not only data to address the basic science of avian communication, but also an important measure of ecosystem health and an indicator for land use and urban planners to consider in future development.

What are the goals of the project?

  1. Our first goal is to evaluate the response of birds to traffic noise outside the breeding season.
  2. Our primary goal, and most unique contribution to the field, is to expand the scope of research on the effects of noise on vocalizations, in particular by moving the research towards addressing the effects of traffic noise on communication.
  3. A secondary goal of this project is to engage undergraduate students in meaningful research


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Funds from this grant will be used to set up field study sites. In particular a mechanism to display a model predator and a mobile observation blind. Acoustic and video equipment and feeders necessary for the project are already available.

Meet the Team

John E Quinn
John E Quinn
Assistant Professor


Furman University
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Team Bio

John Quinn's research addresses the conservation of biodiversity in managed and novel ecosystems, avian ecology, and behavioral ecology. His immediate and long-term research questions consider restoration and conservation of biodiversity in agricultural and urban ecosystems, documenting the resulting benefits and costs to society, and an improved understanding of the linkages and feedback between environmental and social system. Dr. Quinn's research employs experimental, observational, and statistical techniques to evaluate theory for both basic and applied research questions. The tools he uses include fieldwork, acoustic monitoring, and spatial and statistical modeling.

John E Quinn

I am an Assistant Professor of Biology at Furman University. My research emphasizes concerns related to biodiversity conservation and sustainability; in particular I focus on avian ecology, conservation in managed ecosystems, and sustainability for landscape planning.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

In the field with a recorder

Chickadee calls with and without traffic masking

Project Backers

  • 2Backers
  • 9%Funded
  • $50Total Donations
  • $25.00Average Donation
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