Farewell to birdsong? Dawn choir is getting quieter, study finds

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9 November 2021, 17:19 | Updated: November 9, 2021, 5:41 PM

A rapidly declining species population has muffled the once-familiar chorus of dawn.

Image: Alamy


An international study examining the past 25 years shows that the decline of bird species has dramatically altered the volume of nature’s soundtrack.

Have you noticed, the morning choir becomes calmer?

In North America, nearly three billion birds have gone extinct since 1970. In Europe, one in five birds in Europe is currently threatened with extinction.

The sound of spring is changing, and a team of scientists from the University of East Anglia say it’s because of our declining bird population.

Published in Nature Communications, this new article demonstrates a widespread loss of acoustic diversity and volume in the natural soundscapes of North America and Europe over the past 25 years.

Read more: 1,000 musicians just played the sound of our future – and that doesn’t sound good

Birdsong has long inspired human music, with several composers such as Mozart, Messiaen, and Beethoven all drawing inspiration from feathered friends.

Written in the 13th century, one of the first pieces of polyphonic music, Sumer is icumen in, features singers imitating the sound of a cuckoo clock.

With singing species now endangered, it seems it’s not our natural soundscapes that are in danger, but our contemporary compositional landscapes as well.

A recent reimagining of Vivaldi Four Seasons carried out at COP26 imagined what spring would look like in 2050, when bird calls are expected to have declined to an even more alarming level.

Dr Simon Butler is a conservation ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the study.

He explains: “We have seen a widespread decline in the acoustic diversity and intensity of natural soundscapes, driven by changes in the composition of bird communities.

“These results suggest that the soundtrack of spring is becoming calmer and less varied, and that one of the fundamental pathways through which humans engage with nature is in chronic decline, with potentially far-reaching implications for health and life. human well-being.

Read more: 13 pieces of classical music inspired by birdsong

Dr. Butler and his team have examined over 200,000 sites in North America and Europe and reconstructed their soundscapes over the past 25 years based on annual bird count data, and Xeno Canto, an online database of bird calls and songs.

“Unfortunately, we are living in a global environmental crisis, and we now know that the diminishing connection between humans and nature can contribute to it,” says Dr Catriona Morrison, post-doctoral researcher at the School of Biological Sciences of the UEA which carried out the analyzes.

“As we collectively become less aware of our natural surroundings, we also begin to notice or care less about their deterioration. Studies like ours aim to raise awareness of these losses in tangible and relevant ways and to demonstrate their potential impact on human well-being. ”

Dr Butler adds: “Since people primarily hear, rather than see, birds, the reduction in the quality of natural soundscapes is likely to be the mechanism by which the impact of ongoing population declines is. most keenly felt by the general public. “

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