Cities change the songs of birds

Curr Biol. 2006 Dec 5;16(23):2326-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.10.008.


Worldwide urbanization and the ongoing rise of urban noise levels form a major threat to living conditions in and around cities. Urban environments typically homogenize animal communities, and this results, for example, in the same few bird species' being found everywhere. Insight into the behavioral strategies of the urban survivors may explain the sensitivity of other species to urban selection pressures. Here, we show that songs that are important to mate attraction and territory defense have significantly diverged in great tits (Parus major), a very successful urban species. Urban songs were shorter and sung faster than songs in forests, and often concerned atypical song types. Furthermore, we found consistently higher minimum frequencies in ten out of ten city-forest comparisons from London to Prague and from Amsterdam to Paris. Anthropogenic noise is most likely a dominant factor driving these dramatic changes. These data provide the most consistent evidence supporting the acoustic-adaptation hypothesis since it was postulated in the early seventies. At the same time, they reveal a behavioral plasticity that may be key to urban success and the lack of which may explain detrimental effects on bird communities that live in noisy urbanized areas or along highways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Cities
  • Noise
  • Population Dynamics
  • Trees
  • Urbanization
  • Vocalization, Animal*