Nature Nearby: Pump down the volume
BY FRED SEITZ — The fireworks of the Fourth of July and summer parties are upon us, bringing their booming — and sometimes downright startling — noise. Such loud noise is enjoyable for some humans, but not for many of our nearby nature’s neighbors. Pet owners are very familiar with how fireworks, loud music, traffic sounds and other anthropogenic noise can distress and disturb our four-legged or winged cohabitants. Our neighbors in the woods and fields also often have unpleasant reactions and unusual adaptations to the cacophony we produce in celebration or even in our daily routines. And consider that nature’s neighbors include not only obvious candidates such as deer and squirrels but also birds, frogs, insects and plants.
Most of us have noticed how deer and squirrels will either freeze or flee at loud noise. They are troubled by unexpected noises that could herald danger to them.
A more unusual effect of excessive noise, noticed locally and elsewhere, is songbirds singing at night. The nighttime birdsong is believed to be an adaptation to the extensive anthropogenic daytime noise, prompting the birds to engage in courtship calls at night. In some areas, declines in species populations have been reported due to the extensive noise. Even the ubiquitous mourning doves often relocate to avoid loud noise.
Noise seriously interferes with bats who rely on echolocation for hunting insects. It also impacts owls’ nightly hunts, as they use their sensitive hearing to listen for the mice, voles and other small rodents which are the major part of their diet. Ironically, those prey animals which often annoy us, like mice and other rodents, thrive with increased noise, as it interferes with their being hunted successfully.
Listen to the banjo sound of the green frogs the next time you walk the boardwalk in the swamp in Magruder Park. The road noise and other noise pollution interfere with those mating calls. Whether you like their music or not, the frogs help us a lot by devouring mosquito larvae and other annoying insects.
Some insects, such as grasshoppers and crickets, have adapted to the increased man-made noise by amplifying their own calls. Noise begets noise.
Plants are also affected by the increased noise, albeit indirectly. In harming animals, such as frogs and birds, that help control plant-eating insect populations, noise pollution leaves plants more vulnerable to such insects. Additionally, plants are harmed when animals that pollinate them or disperse their seeds are adversely impacted by increased noise levels.
Finally, animals experience some of the same negative effects of excessive noise that we humans do, including hearing damage and increased blood pressure, cardiac problems and stress. Given that the sound pressure from man-made noise such as fireworks, construction work and audio amplifiers greatly exceeds the pressure from loud natural sounds such as thunder and waterfalls, it may serve both our natural neighbors and ourselves to be more mindful of our own noisemaking.