The world's loudest bird is as deafening as thunder, scientists say
At 125.4 decibels, the white bellbird is almost as loud as a jet aircraft.
Jackson RyanFormer Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Meet the white bellbird, a Brazilian banshee-bird with a screeching squawk that can reach up to 125.4 decibels. That's louder than a rock concert and almost as loud as a gunshot. It doesn't quite have the same melody as a rock song might, nor the explosiveness of a gunshot -- in fact, listening to the bellbird scream, I'm not even sure that this is really a bird.
The sound that emanates from its throat sounds like a robot with a chest infection.
Nevertheless, Jeffrey Podos and Mario Cohn-Haft ventured out into the forests of South America to record the bellbird and another incredibly loud flier known as the screaming piha. Their study, published Monday in the journal Current Biology, shows the bellbird's shriek is louder than that of any other bird in the world. The previous record, held by the screaming piha, was around 116 decibels, but Podos and Cohn-Haft found the bellbird to scream 9 decibels louder.
The screaming piha is practically whispering in comparison to the thunderous boom the white bellbird produces. Remarkably, it's louder than the much bigger and more built howler monkeys, which can only reach around 114 decibels. For such a small bird, it's pretty remarkable.
Why is the bellbird so loud? Well, to attract a mate, of course. While shouting at the opposite sex doesn't work very well for humans, the volume of the male white bellbird's song is a way to attract a female. In fact, the loudest songs of all came when females sidled up close to the males.
"While watching white bellbirds, we were lucky enough to see females join males on their display perches," said Podos in a press release. "In these cases, we saw that the males sing only their loudest songs. Not only that, they swivel dramatically during these songs, so as to blast the song's final note directly at the females."
This is quite unusual behavior, the team notes, because most birds and animals use their loudest songs to communicate over long distances, not to play a game of telephone right next to each other. As the study notes, at four meters away, the female bellbirds would potentially be damaging their own hearing. Why they stick so close to the males when they are bellowing out their metallic tune remains a mystery.
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