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Saturday, October 03, 2020


by Hayley Mitchell Haugen

A new study found that sparrows in San Francisco altered their birdsong to sound more appealing to mates after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city. When the pandemic hit—and vehicle traffic slowed down—researchers found that noise levels in San Francisco and other urban parts of the Bay Area reduced by nearly 50%. The shutdown, they wrote, effectively reversed "more than a half-century rise in noise pollution." The birds, as a result, began singing more quietly, hitting lower notes and improving their vocal performance. Elizabeth Derryberry, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Tennessee, told Agence France-Presse that the birds "sounded better, they sounded sexier" to mates. —USA Today, September 25, 2020

In the quiet of Covid the white-crowned sparrows
are tweeting more softly—three times less loud—
than before their urban streets cleared
of the morning mayhem, the rush and tumble
of the human lives they once pitched
their calls above to be heard. Suddenly,
the airwaves unpolluted, their songs’
distance double, clarify, elevating their health,
attracting new mates. Why is it so quiet,
the people say. Where are all the birds?
Listen, they are still here with us, changing,
as we have, singing a new tune.

Hayley Mitchell Haugen is a professor of English at Ohio University Southern in southeastern Ohio. Light & Shadow, Shadow & Light from Main Street Rag Publishing Company (2018) is her first full-length poetry collection, and her chapbook, What the Grimm Girl Looks Forward To is from Finishing Line Press (2016). She edits Sheila-Na-Gig online and Sheila-Na-Gig Editions.