The effects of anthropogenic noise on Kirtland's warblers

Calvin College
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Raised of $2,700 Goal
Ended on 4/16/16
Campaign Ended
  • $29
  • 2%
  • Finished
    on 4/16/16

About This Project

Anthropogenic (human-produced) noise negatively impacts many songbirds, but its effect on Kirtland’s warblers is unknown. Current regulation requires ¼ mile between noise sources and Kirtland’s habitat, but impacts on birds are often observed at twice this distance. To facilitate data-driven regulation, I will assess noise levels at increasing distances near noise-producing sources (roads, gas wells), map noise across the landscape and compare noise with Kirtland's warbler abundance.

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What is the context of this research?

Kirtland's warblers are an endangered species that breed primarily in Northern Michigan. Habitat management has successfully increased population numbers to over 2000 breeding males. However, with over 418 operational gas wells, 7 ORV trails and multiple roads near or within Kirtland's warbler habitat, noise is also an issue. With the growth of resource extraction in the region, noise will continue to increase. Current development that will produce noise must be placed 1/4 mile from habitats set aside for Kirtland's warblers. However, negative impacts on birds have been observed at much greater distances. For this reason, the lead researcher is collaborating with members of the USFWS, USFS, and MDNR to provide data-driven information on how noise affects Kirtland's warblers.

What is the significance of this project?

The Kirtland's warbler is a conservation reliant species, but management successes may result in de-listing it as an endangered species sometime in the future. This will likely result in an increased number of permit requests for noise-producing activities near Kirtland's warbler habitats. If these birds are negatively impacted beyond the 1/4 mile buffer, much like other bird species, the current lack of data might lead to a scenario where regions of otherwise suitable habitat cannot be utilized by Kirtland's warblers. Because the young Jack Pine forests required for nesting are rare in the region and human development is rarely reversed once it is initiated, noise could limit warbler utilization across much of their habitat.

What are the goals of the project?

The current work focuses on how noise affects bird abundance and location. By mapping noise and bird abundance simultaneously we can determine whether individuals avoid noisy areas completely or use them at lower rates than in quiet locations. By building a noise map that incorporates noise information on the distance noise travels from specific sources (roads and compressor stations) we can apply our map to regions beyond those that will be sampled directly. The goal is to sample 10 roads and compressor stations found in the lower peninsula of Michigan during the summer of 2016, but these results can be extended to assess the effects of noise on populations in the Upper Peninsula as well as in Wisconscin and Canada. Future work will compare reproductive success in quiet and noisy sites.


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My goal it to put a high quality sound recorder (Zoom H4n) near 10 noise producing sources in Kirtland's habitats. Recorders will be equally spaced at 100 meter increments from 0 - 1 kilometer from the source. Sources will include 1) seven roads of varying traffic load, and 2) three active compressors stations used for oil and gas extraction. After taking noise readings at these sites, I will create a 'heat map' of noise across the region by extrapolating noise to other road and compressor stations found within Kirtland's habitat. These results can then be compared to the abundance and location of birds to determine whether Kirtland's warblers are less likely to nest in noisy areas. The request for mileage covers travel to place and retrieve recorders.

Meet the Team

Darren Proppe
Darren Proppe
Assistant Professor of Biology


Calvin College
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Darren Proppe

I am interested in how animals respond to novel environments - especially those altered by human development. My research focused primarily on the responses of songbirds to the increasing levels of anthropogenic noise. Past work has been published in scientific journals such as Global Change Biology and Behavioral Ecology and covered by media outlets such as BBC World News. However, one of my primary objectives is to provide data-driven research that directly impacts the management of songbird populations. Along these lines I have studied which species are impacted by noise and which ones can alter their behavior in ways that helps them to persist in noisy areas. I have also investigated the use of song playback as a way to facilitate the return of songbirds to landscapes where they have been lost.

In addition to my research, I teach at Calvin College where I intentionally engage students in real-world conservation issues through classroom research and applied activities. I also believe in collaborating with conservation agencies. The current project stems from many discussions with biologists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and Michigan Department of Natural Resources. These relationships ensure that I am collecting data relevant to the management of the species of concern. It also ensure that the results from my research will be integrated into on-the-ground species management.

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Additional Information

Why does noise effect birds? Songbirds like the Kirtland's warbler communicate primary through acoustic signals. Birdsong is the way they attract mates, secure territories, and even find food. Noise disrupts this communication in several ways. First, it masks it. In other words, birds simply can't hear each other well enough to interpret the messages being sent. Second, noise takes away their ability to hear predators which can negatively change behaviors (e.g., make adults less likely to feed nestling regularly). Third, it appears to be stressful, just like noise annoys us humans. This can weaken the health of the birds by increasing stress hormones and behavior.

Project Backers

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  • $29Total Donations
  • $14.50Average Donation
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