Study Shows Urban & Rural Chickadees Chirp to a Different Tune
Prince George, B.C. – Chickadee research out of UNBC is giving people plenty to chirp about.
Dr. Steffi LaZerte, a UNBC researcher, has had her research on black-capped chickadees published in prestigious biology journal, the ‘Royal Society of London B.’
(The study was co-authored by UNBC professor Dr. Ken Otter and Dr. Hans Slabbekoorn from Leiden University in The Netherlands).
She says research in this field is important because a birds’ vocalizations play an important role in mate attraction and territory defense in a noisy, city environment.
“We looked at how chickadees deal with urban noise because other studies have found that birds will either avoid noise or they’ll change the way they think to deal with noise and we knew that birds were able to do this,” says LaZerte.
“But we didn’t really know how they learned to do it or if it was genetic change or if they had to learn it as a baby or whether adults could be more flexible in how they applied it.”
The research involved playing back noise to birds in noisy areas that were already noisy from background noise and playing noise back to birds in quiet areas.
So what did they find?
“What we actually found was that they actually both reacted immediately to the playbacks of noise but in different ways,” she says.
“So in birds in urban areas they did what we thought they ought to do which was to shift their songs upwards in frequency – they actually sang more high frequency songs which is what you would expect.
“What we expected was that the birds in the rural or quiet areas would shift randomly because these birds already shift their songs normally in interactions with each other,” says LaZerte.
“We didn’t expect there to be any directionality. We thought they’d just shift up and down or whatever. But it turns out they actually shifted downward so they weren’t doing what we thought they ought to do when the noise was low in frequency.”
She isn’t sure what that is but can guess.
“We think it has to do with the fact that the noise they’re used to isn’t the same as urban noise. So what I played back to them was a low frequency rumble and that’s very different than what birds in quiet areas experience because quiet areas can be noisy from other birds or from wind or from water and some of these areas have intermittent traffic.”
LaZerte conducted her research using a big speaker in urban and rural settings in Prince George, Vancouver, Quesnel and Kelowna and notes being published in a top tier journal is a thrill.
“It means people are interested in it and it has a broader appeal and that’s always exciting to know.”