Posts filed under ‘Acoustic Ecology’

Birds sing louder amidst the noise and structures of the urban jungle

By Sharada Balasubramanian

Sparrows, blackbirds and the great tit are all birds known to sing at a higher pitch (frequency) in urban environments. It was previously believed that these birds sang at higher frequencies in order to escape the lower frequencies noises of the urban environment. Now, researchers at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Aberystwyth have discovered that besides noise, the physical structure of cities also plays a role in altering the birds’ songs.

Urban birds sing differently and at a higher frequency than woodland birds in an effort to penetrate the wall of constant noise produced by traffic, machines and human activity. However, architecture also has a profound affect on their songs. The study findings have recently been published in the esteemed scientific journal PLoS One.

A new explanation

“Urban architecture is a crucial determinant of how urban birds sing”. Noise amidst the urban landscape is typically composed of lower frequencies. Thus, one might jump to the conclusion that it would be smart for birds to distinguish their song by singing louder in order to drown out the competing noise. However, the recent study demonstrates that the noise explanation is incomplete, according to Professor Torben Dabelsteen of the Section for Ecology and Evolution at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Biology, one of the authors of the study.

The city’s role in the song

Some researchers have never really bought into the idea that urban noise alone caused birds in the city to sing at higher frequencies. Either directly, because birds tried to sing at a higher tone and away from noise or indirectly, by the birds singing louder to drown out anthropogenic noise.

“Now, with the help of controlled sound recordings, we have shown that the higher frequencies in urban birds’ songs are also transmitted across cities when there isn’t any noise from traffic. This shows that the physical structure of cities must play a considerable role in the heightened frequencies,” explains Torben Dabelsteen.

Structures and variations in the cityscape – houses, streets, open spaces and alleys – all serve to reflect and distort noise in differing ways, things that birds must take into account. Birds in the urban environment can easily spot one another, but must do what they can to reduce echoes from buildings and narrow streets in order to penetrate and communicate effectively.

High-pitched urban birds

Birds living beyond the urban landscape need not tweet away with full force. While the woodland’s trees and abundant foliage also distort sound through reflection, they also serve to obstruct clear lines of sight. Therefore, rural birds may utilize these distortions to help judge distances and locate one another.

“City-dwellers can look forward to the lively song of birds in the coming spring, and even though a side effect of the urban birds’ more powerful song is that they sing at a higher pitch, this is something that we are not typically able to hear,” explains Dabelsteen.

Provided by University of Copenhagen

March 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm 3 comments

Taking Time for the Little Things

Take time to notice the little things

I often read Richard Louv’s highly inspirational blogs and various posts.  He is the author of Last Child in the Woods, the man who coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder”, and is a keen advocate for getting our children into the outdoors to experience nature, and more importantly to make the connections that we are rapidly losing as the pace of modern living continues to accelerate an alarming rate.

One of his recent blogs, The Little Things, struck a particular chord with me, and I wanted to share it with you.  In his post, he invites his audience to be mindful of the little things, the things in our daily lives that we constantly overlook.  The familiar smells, sights and sounds in the minutiae of life.  He asks his readers to pay attention to the familiar things when the house is empty  (“in the silence, look for the little things”), and when the family returns again, to do the same.  “These little things are everything”.

You can read the full blog here :

Similarly, when you are out in nature, even if this is in your back garden or yard, or the local park, take time to be mindful here too, to be aware of “the little things,” the things you take for granted, the things you overlook as you rush through your busy life.  Slow down, take the time to stop and listen.  And in your imagination create a little mind map of your experience.  You will be pleasantly surprised at what you notice.  Perhaps memories will be evoked.  Perhaps you will be inspired to be creative.  Maybe you will notice some sounds that are no longer there; a particular bird song that is missing, for example.

And in being mindful of the little things, the bigger things can gain their proper perspective and context, and life becomes much richer.

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Education 4 Conservation has a series of workshop programmes designed to focus participants on the “little things” through awareness of sound.  The first of the workshops, Soundwalk Warwickshire, will be delivered in spring 2012.  

December 30, 2011 at 8:41 pm Leave a comment

Soundwalk Warwickshire – an appeal for help

We have made it through the first round of the Nat West Community Force funding application.  We have now been invited to post photographs and videos and have to put some effort into encouraging people to vote for our project.

As well as posting photographs and videos another idea would be to create a dynamic and media-rich presentation that would tell the world all about Soundwalk Warwickshire and what we are trying to achieve.

To achieve this we need some volunteers to help us put this together .  I have put the basic framework of the presentation together, but now need to add in graphics, additional photos, video footage and a soundtrack.

If you would like to get involved and help us get this programme off the ground please get in touch.

About Soundwalk Warwickshire

Soundwalk Warwickshire is part of our larger Wild Echoes workshop programme which focuses on acoustic ecology.  Our aim is to explore the natural world and our cultural heritage through sound and acoustics.  We will offer a wide range of activities from the very simple to the highly complex.

At a very basic level a soundwalk could simply be a walk in the park, woodland, farmland, an urban environment.  The only criteria are that the soundwalker(s) become attuned to their aural landscape and take some time to reflect on their experiences.

At a more complex level we will be recording natural and displaced natural sounds and using art and technology to create soundscape pieces.  We will also explore what sound, noise, silence and acoustics means to different cultures across different timelines.  For example, exploring historical soundscapes and comparing them with modern soundscapes.

If you want to be a part of this exciting journey, then please get in touch.

August 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm Leave a comment

Bats and Bowls

Tibetan Singing Bowl

During the summer a friend introduced me to the wonderful properties of Tibetan singing bowls.

A traditional singing bowl is usually beautifully hand-crafted from bronze and other metals, which resonate or “sing” from the vibrations of being struck or being rubbed by a wooden, plastic or leather-bound mallet. The sound produced is multiphonic, comprising multiple harmonic overtones, depending on the metal composition of the bowl.  Antique bowls often have gold and silver mixed with the bronze.

Of late, I have developed a deep interest in acoustic ecology, and I’m currently spending time researching the nature of sound and silence and what this means from a cultural perspective.  I was so entranced with the Tibetan singing bowl, and immediately my imagination went into overdrive about the possibilities this could open up.

I was delighted when my son bought one for my birthday in September, and eager to experiment, I took the bowl outside to explore how it would sound in an open space.

I live in a rural setting, surrounded by fields and woodland, and one evening as dusk was settling into night, I stood on the farm track by the copse near my house and played my bowl.  The sound resonated beautifully with a deep melodic tone, and it felt good to be playing it outdoors.  The quality of the sound was quite different from playing it indoors.  There was more of a sense of freedom and letting the sound go where it wanted without it being enclosed and echoing back.

After a short while, I noticed I had company.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw something flash by, and quickly it was gone. I recognised the movement.  It was a bat!

Bats flying

It was dusk at the time, and it’s not unusual to see bats on their evening forays to find food, and so I wasn’t surprised to see it.  I often sit and watch the bats in the summer months, flitting in and out of the trees, especially as the sun goes down.

I carried on playing, but this time with an eye on the treeline above me.  The bat came in for another fly-over, but this time swooped in much closer.

I was intrigued.  Was it reacting to the singing bowl?  Or was it just going about its normal business and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.

I stopped playing, and stood waiting for a while.  No sign of the bat.  I struck the bowl several times lightly, making a gentle resonating sound, and the bat appeared again.  As I continued to play, it made several passes by where I was stood, some of them very close.

This carried on for a while.  When I struck or rubbed the bowl to make it sing, the bat would appear, and swoop over me, sometimes quite low.  When I stopped playing, it was nowhere to be seen.

A few nights later, I told my ten year old daughter and two of her friends, who are also our neighbours, what had happened, and they were curious to see if it would happen again.  So off we went with the bowl and all gathered on the farm track by the trees.  We stood as still and quiet as we could, and then started playing the bowl.  It wasn’t long before a bat appeared, and as on the previous evening, it swooped in low as if investigating the strange noise whenever the bowl was played.  The kids were enthralled, whooping and laughing as we all ducked to avoid the bat as it “buzzed” us.

The whole experience has left me wanting to know more about this response from the bats.  But of course, as a wildlife conservationist, I don’t want to disturb the nightly feeding routines of my local bat population, so clearly I need to do some more research.

I hope to have a second instalment to this story fairly soon, and to be able to link this experience into our bio-acoustic workshop Nocturne.  What better inspiration to continue with our acoustic ecology work than connecting with nature in surprising ways!

November 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

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