Pipe down, Bay Area


With Golden Gate Park’s rows of trees, downtown’s soft glow in the evenings and the dining scene in the Mission, who wouldn’t want to live in San Francisco? Apparently birds wouldn’t.

Environment scientists studied the behavior of the scrub jay, a bird native to the San Francisco Bay Area along with other areas of the western United States.

The report released online by the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that the birds avoid nesting near gas wells, where loud sounds are common and incessant.

These sounds drown out the scrub’s communication calls, prompting them to relocate.

Clinton Francis, ecologist at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and the report’s main author, said that noise could be a growing environmental concern:

“We’re starting to see that noise may actually be a big problem.”

The scrub’s response to noise pollution is common among animals. Other creatures like male frogs change the pitch of mating calls in urban setting. Bats have difficulty finding food when city noise drowns out echolocation.

In the scrub’s case, when it leaves, the forest suffers.

The birds hide pine seeds for winter and inevitably forget where they left some of their haul. These seeds then grow into the next generation of trees.

Turns out birds can be pickier about sounds and noise levels than humans, according to Francis, who also said that a sound no louder than a vacuum running in the next room can be incredibly irritating to birds:

“What may not seem extremely loud to us can be disturbing to these birds.”

In California, motorists drive down 12,000 miles of freeway with travelers going through 29 commercial airports. A thousand power plants loudly churn out electricity  running day and night.

University of Colorado scientist and study collaborator Nathan Kleist said that humans must be conscious about noise as we extend our reach into the natural habitat of animals:

“Noise has slipped under the radar for such a long time. There’s a ton of acoustic habitat loss in the entire world, and that’s probably not going to change. But if we really do want to conserve habitat for animals, then noise levels are going to have to be a part of that.”

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