Urban white-crowned sparrows have dialects for different neighborhoods

March 1, 2016, 1:43 p.m.

White-crowed sparrows have learned to adapt to urban living in a variety of ways, but one of the most fascinating is how they adapt their songs to function in loud city environments.

Bay Nature Magazine writes, "Bay Area white-crowned sparrows are famous in ornithological circles for their flexible songs. Like many songbirds, white crowns develop dialects specific to certain areas, the way a California drawl in Humboldt County differs from one in Los Angeles. But their dialects are so distinct, the boundaries so sharp, they have become a subject of choice for researchers studying song learning and evolution."

Researchers are using white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco and the surrounding area to learn how these birds are affected by urban noise. We know some bird species don't function particularly well, with nesting success affected by noise. However, other species such as these sparrows are figuring out new strategies through song.

"Luther and his colleagues have documented that these Presidio birds have clearly shifted to a dialect more audible above the urban din. And they sing even that dialect at a higher minimum frequency than in past decades, likely in an effort to rise above the low-frequency rumble of cars."

But at what cost did these birds change their songs? That's what researchers are looking to discover. Learn more about how these sparrows are creating audible survival strategies in the Bay Nature article.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.