Effects of Noise Pollution on Songbird Behavior

Hello everyone! My name is Sophia Palia and I am a rising senior Biology major at the College. I am so excited to be starting my Honors project this summer studying the effects of noise pollution on songbird behavior. I want to thank everyone who contributed to my project and helped make this opportunity possible. In this first blog post, I would like to introduce you to my project studying zebra finches at the aviary near campus.

Noise pollution is an increasingly prevalent anthropogenic stressor that has detrimental effects on wildlife. Songbirds, in particular, are sensitive to noise pollution as they are inherently vocal animals. We know that noise affects how birds sing and breed, but we know far less about how noise might influence patterns of within-species dominance and aggression, and the trade-offs between feeding and vigilance. In my project, I will be using a “sonic net,” a device that emits noise overlapping with frequencies of bird calls, which masks communication and represents noise pollution. I will be exposing this noise pollution at varying degrees to sets of zebra finches to try to better understand how disruptive noise pollution affects patterns of aggression, expressions of social dominance, and the foraging/vigilance energy trade-off in this model system for songbirds.

As I begin my project, I am setting up the cage system and performing a series of pilot studies to test my methodology. I look forward to keeping you updated on my progress!


  1. Hi Sophia!

    Your project sounds incredibly interesting to me, and after reading this initial post, I will definitely be following your progress over the summer. I think it is fascinating how extremely detrimental certain types of “nontraditional” pollution can be to the environment, and how widespread their effects are. When I think of pollution caused by changes in the modern world, I think of greenhouse gas emissions, excess CO2, ozone depletion, and other chemistry-related phenomena. However, your project points to a unique impact of growing modern industry, which unites the biological world with the cultural! I never really thought about how new elements of human culture, such as in urbanization, building of roads and shopping malls, rising housing developments, and other changes actually impact the “culture” of animals, and then reach even deeper to impact their biological existences as well.

    In fact, I am involved in a campaign in my home state of DE that is working to save a large piece of open space from development, and one of our main motivations is to preserve the wildlife species that live there. Your project points to an effect of housing and shopping center developments on local species that I can now include when describing our conservation efforts. On top of simply destroying bird habitats, the sound pollution from cars, machines, and more, will have a huge impact on the native bird species’ ability to communicate, reproduce, and balance their energy needs!

    I really look forward to hearing how your pilot studies turn out and how you use them to shape your full methodology. From a companion honors-student, thanks for sharing!
    -Sarah Heins

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