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Animals 2019, 9(3), 118;

Do the Calls of a Bird, the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala), Need Adjustment for Efficient Communication in Urban Anthropogenic Noise?

School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton Campus, Victoria 3800, Australia
Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria 3083, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 12 February 2019 / Revised: 16 March 2019 / Accepted: 21 March 2019 / Published: 26 March 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behaviour and Management of Urban Wildlife)
PDF [813 KB, uploaded 26 March 2019]

Simple Summary

A common feature of urban environments is constant, low frequency, anthropogenic noise. To communicate effectively acoustically in this environment requires avoidance of sound masking by this background noise. Research suggests that some animals can adjust their vocalizations so that they lie outside the main frequency range of urban anthropogenic noise, whilst others may produce sound signals that naturally avoid masking and therefore do not require adjustment. To date, research in this area has tended to focus on adjustment to complex songs, rather than simpler calls. The Noisy miner, Manorina melanocephala, is a very successful avian urban colonizer that uses calls in its acoustic communication. We compared the calls of this species in both urban and rural populations. Of all calls compared, only those that lay within the main frequency range of anthropogenic noise (1–2 kHz) showed shifts in minimum sound frequency in urban individuals, but these frequency shifts were notably small and insufficient to entirely preclude masking by urban noise. However, several Noisy miner calls had frequencies of more than 2 kHz that lay outside the main frequency range of urban anthropogenic noise (>2 kHz), suggesting intriguingly that this species may be inherently well-suited to communicating vocally in urban settings, which may be one of the keys to its success as an urban colonizer.


Urban environments are characteristically noisy and this can pose a challenge for animals that communicate acoustically. Although evidence suggests that some birds can make acoustic adjustments that preclude masking of their signals in high-disturbance environments such as cities, studies to date have tended to focus on acoustic signals important in mate attraction (e.g., songs). Far less attention has been given to the impact of urban noise on other kinds of calls. To redress this, we compared a range of different vocalizations (encompassing alarm calls, begging calls and parent response calls) among urban and rural individuals of a successful Australian ‘urban adapter’, the Noisy miner, Manorina melanocephala. We found that urban miners had significantly higher minimum sound frequencies for calls with low base-frequencies (<2 kHz); however, calls with base-frequencies ‘naturally’ above the main frequency range of urban noise (>2 kHz) had the same minimum frequency in urban and rural birds. Dominant frequency and call duration did not differ between urban and rural individuals. Although urban Noisy miners exhibited differences from rural individuals in the minimum frequency of calls, this shift was not large enough to avoid masking from low-frequency, anthropogenic noise. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that the calls of Noisy miners may be naturally well suited to being heard in noisy urban environments by having (a) dominant frequencies higher than low-level, anthropogenic noise and (b) several important call-types with frequencies above the main frequency range associated with urban noise. View Full-Text
Keywords: acoustic signals; anthropogenic noise; call adjustments; Noisy miner; urban adapter acoustic signals; anthropogenic noise; call adjustments; Noisy miner; urban adapter

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Lowry, H.; Lill, A.; Wong, B.B.M. Do the Calls of a Bird, the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala), Need Adjustment for Efficient Communication in Urban Anthropogenic Noise? Animals 2019, 9, 118.

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