San Francisco songbirds changing their tune in pandemic

Thought this was interesting: In May, scientists studied the soundscapes and songs of the white-crowned sparrow, comparing it to data from May 2016. They discovered that these songbirds have changed their "tune."


Throughout the shutdown San Franciscans reported an unusual amount of birdsong ringing through the city streets, and a scientific study has now shown that birds have indeed changed their singing habits.

San Francisco is a noisy place, but during the coronavirus pandemic the soundscape changed dramatically. In May, traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge was reduced to levels not seen since 1954, and the noise pollution on city streets was comparable to the rural parts of Marin County. Normally, San Francisco is around three times louder than Marin, the report says.

This gave songbirds in the city an opportunity to make their voice heard, and they took it, according to the study published in Science magazine.

David Luther, assistant professor of Biology at George Mason University and Elizabeth Derryberry, associate professor at the University of Tennessee, worked with a team of ecologists on the study. They discovered that while the songbirds of San Francisco increased the frequency of song, they did so at a lower volume than usual, as there was less noise to compete with. However, to residents' ears this resulted in a perceived increase in birdsong volume.

photo by Doug Greenberg CC BY-NC 2.0