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Unfaithful Finches

September 26, 2007

Noise pollution from humans makes finches unfaithful.


What drives a bird to cheat. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Zebra finches usually mate for life. But what happens to those bonds when humans move in and bring noise pollution with them? Biologists John Swaddle and Laura Page of the College of William and Mary played female zebra finches different levels of noise. They let each female flirt with the male of her choice – either her partner or a total stranger. Swaddle says as the noise grew louder, the female’s preference for her mate plummeted, because she couldn’t hear him sing.

JOHN SWADDLE (College of William and Mary):
So what we think is happening is as the environmental noise is increasing, the soft calls that males make to maintain their pair bonds with females was completely masked by the noise. And so this fundamentally changed the pair-bond strength between the males and females.

Swaddle says noise pollution could not only be breaking up finch couples, but affecting other birds as well. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.