Quiet Cities Filled With Birdsong

Some species spread their wings during COVID lockdowns
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2021 3:54 PM CDT
Quiet Cities Filled With Birdsong
File photo of a house sparrow is with an insect in its beak.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

When human activity receded in crowded areas during the pandemic lockdowns, some animals got a little bolder. And when the human-caused noise pollution in cities quieted down, birdsong filled in, a new study shows. The “anthropause,” the fancy new word for the dip in traffic and noise, left space for several bird species to hang out in parts of cities they’d avoided, NPR reports. City dwellers might have seen more hummingbirds around, for example. Michael Schrimpf, one of the authors of the study in in the journal Science Advances, said that the bird population did not increase—just the counts. As in, birds that would have stayed away from noisy office buildings and busy roads were spotted more when fewer people were out and about. The finding is not terribly far from the anecdotal stories about animals appearing where they weren’t expected—it’s just backed by research using eBird data.

And the birds might not stick around. A neighborhood that looked good at first glance might have a predator to cope with or not enough bugs or fruit to eat. Counts of birds that already do well around crowds, like pigeons in the park, went down in some areas. The mere presence of birds wasn’t the only change. White-crowned sparrows sang fancier songs when traffic in the San Francisco area quieted down, Popular Science reports. If the trend for more people working from home continues, some of the changes could stick. “We could make urban spaces more attractive to birds by reducing traffic and mitigating the disturbance from human transportation after we emerge from the pandemic,” the study concluded. (Read more lockdown stories.)

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