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The Changes to Springtime Song

As the flowers begin to bloom and the animals reappear after winter, nature’s choir begins to sound. Cerys Deakin explores changes to the sounds of spring that have occurred over time, and why.

When I was younger, I remember waking up to the sound of the birds in the morning. Some mornings, they even spoiled my sleep! Now I wake up to a different chorus. The sounds have changed, but how so?

The Guardian recently released an article that led me to think about this further. As the world faces a ‘deathly silence of nature’, I began to think as a conservationist.

What have we lost in recent years, that has vanished from our soundscape?

Pied Flycatcher. Image Credit: Vizetelly via Pixabay.

Studies have found that numbers of native breeding birds across the UK are decreasing, with a recorded 6% decline between 2017 and 2022, including pied flycatchers and tree sparrows. Various ecologists have reported that changes to the sounds of an environment reflect the changes in numbers of the wildlife. These sounds that are being lost are being referred to as ‘acoustic fossils’,  and the collection of these fossils is growing. It is even said that there are already many sounds that have become fossils and can only be heard on recordings, instead of out in the wild where they belong.

Curlew on Tresillian River Mudflats. Image Credit: Flappy Pigeon via Wikimedia Commons.

Take the nightingale or turtle dove. The populations of both birds have suffered an almost catastrophic 90% decline. In an article published by The Guardian, one writer described having never heard either of these species’ song, with some people even being completely unaware that they are missing from both our land and soundscapes. In Cumbria, change is also apparent. Heidi Bewley recalls fifteen years ago, when the sound of the curlew reflected the start of breeding season, with dozens calling at once. Now, Heidi hears only the lonely call of a single Curlew.

Male Blackbird eating an earthworm. Image Credit: Andreas Trepte via Wikimedia Commons.


But, what is considered the normal behaviour for birds in springtime?

As the year progress, days become longer and as the clocks go forward, daylight thankfully comes earlier. When these changes happen, insects start to emerge (essential food for the birds). But climate change can influence insect populations too! When temperatures and rainfall increase, there are changes to the occurrence and distribution of insects. Higher temperatures alter the rate of reproduction, and higher rainfall increases mortality. Climate change is affecting ecosystems and food chains. Could this be the reason why birdsong is changing?

Coral bleaching present in Hawaii. Image Credit: Caitlin Seaview Survey via Wikimedia Commons.

Bird song is not the only collection of sound that is experiencing change as a consequence of climate change. Coral reefs are also known to produce sound. The rising temperatures associated with climate change are affecting corals by causing bleaching, resulting in a ‘deathly silence’ across the reefs. These changes are horrifying and disappointing for scientists, who described healthy reefs as producing a ‘cacophony of sounds’.

These changing soundscapes are just one of the many consequences and changes being recorded as a result of changing climates. This devastating trend can leave us with questions, one being initially posed by The Guardian – can we love something that isn’t there?

And what good is loving something if we have already lost it?

We have also begun to wonder, have you noticed any changes to the sounds you hear?

About the Author: Cerys Deakin is a third year Zoologist at the University of Exeter, with a passion for conservation. Cerys has just completed her dissertation on blue tits and great tits which sparked an interest in birds and their changing behaviours alongside climate change. To find out more about Cerys, check out her LinkedIn page. Cerys is also undertaking a running challenge in May to help raise funds for The Civet Project, check this out here:

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