Environment

Listening to the urban choir

How biologist Jenny Phillips listens to birdsong in an age of cities

June 4, 2020
A sparrow sat upon a deck
Living among humans and shrouded by human noise, songbirds like this sparrow have adapted their song [Rhubarble, flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0]

Perhaps you were woken up today by the calls of a singing bird — perhaps trying to mate, or simply to communicate. In an Anthropocene world, those birdsongs are changing. Songbirds today, many of whom live in the midst of human cities, are singing into increasingly noisy skies. Their songs must compete with the din of planes, trains, and automobiles — and birds have been adapting their song to compensate.

Enter scientists such as Jenny Phillips, a biologist at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Phillips and her colleagues study birdsong in order to understand how human noise continues to change the notes those birds are singing. In this Scienceline audio profile, Rahul Rao talks to Phillips about how she records birdsong — and what she learns by listening to those birds.

Birdsong and urban noises in this audio piece were provided by Jenny Philips.

Scienceline · Listening to the urban choir

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