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Anthropogenic noise is associated with changes in acoustic but not visual signals in red-winged blackbirds


Some birds in noisy areas produce songs with higher frequency and/or amplitude and altered timing compared to individuals in quiet areas. These changes may function to increase the efficacy of acoustic signals by reducing masking by noise. We collected audio recordings of red-winged blackbirds and measured noise levels. We found that males in noisier places produced songs with fewer syllables and slower repeat rate of elements in some components (rattles). Birds may also improve the efficacy of communication in noise by increasing usage of other signaling modalities. Red-winged blackbirds also perform a visual display in different intensities while singing. We also tested whether this species performs the visual display in different intensities according to current noise levels, and predicted that if the efficacy of songs is impaired in noisy places, males would compensate by performing a more intense visual display. For this, we also collected visual recordings from the same males from which we obtained acoustic recordings. We found no association between acoustic noise and the intensity of the visual display; thus, our results do not support the idea that males are using the visual display as a backup signal to communicate under acoustic noise. We discuss some possible explanations of this negative finding and for the observed noise-related changes in song length and rattle rate in the context of communication under noise.

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