STUDY: Traffic Noise Makes It Harder for Birds to Think

February 10, 2021 at 8:36 pm

Birds’ brains don’t function well near the sound of rushing traffic, making it harder for them to mate, find food and avoid predators

Traffic noise is stressing birds out and making it difficult for them to think straight, a new study finds.

Birds exposed to the sound of traffic took twice as long to find food and learn new skills, researchers from Pacific University in Oregon found.

“For example, learning to remember the location of a hidden food reward took control birds about nine trials, but those exposed to traffic noise took on average 18 trials to learn the same task,” biology professor Christopher Templeton told iNews.

The researchers gave zebra finches a series of tasks including finding food beneath leaves and figuring out how to access food in a cylinder. They had some birds attempt the tasks in peace and quiet,  and some with a recording of traffic sounds played in the background.

The level of noise resembled road noise in a semi-rural area.

The birds exposed to traffic noise were also less able to control impulses, distinguish different colors and learn from each other.

“The degree to which simply hearing cars drive by impacted cognitive performance was really striking,” Templeton said.

Another study, published the same day (Feb. 2) found traffic noise hurts crickets’ chances of finding a mate.

Male crickets sing by rubbing their wings together, and female crickets choose a mate based on the quality of their song. The researchers found that traffic and white noise reduced the crickets’ mating success rate from 90 to 70 percent.

An earlier study, published in September 2020, found that the relative quiet of lockdown enabled male white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco to sing better and attract more females.