Photo credit: JULIO NERY from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We have covered how many animal species–on land, in the air, and in the water–responded to the reduction in anthropogenic noise caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns, but we are writing about another confirmatory report using different methods. As reported in Smithsonian Magazine, a recent study published in Science Advances used data from the eBird community science site to study what happened when cities got quieter during the lockdowns.

More than 4.3 million observations made by experienced birders were analyzed. The results showed that birds changed their behavior as cities became quieter, with different species changing their behaviors in different ways.

One of the study’s authors made an interesting statement: “The actual physical environment didn’t change. What did change was the activity of people in those spaces.”

Even robins, well-adapted to urban life, changed their behaviors. As another author noted, “[w]e assume that robins are well adapted to our human landscape. Even the common species that are around us are actually much more sensitive to human disturbance than we have really appreciated before.”

The study’s authors note that one of the most remarkable findings was that so many different birds benefited from the reduction in noise.

Humans would benefit from a reduction in noise, too.

Some noise may be an unavoidable consequence of modern urban life, but cities can be made noticeably quieter by many simple measures–enforcement of existing noise ordinances, planting trees, changes in aircraft flight patterns among them–with a better quality of life for all living things.