The Amazon's White Bellbirds Shatter Record For World's Loudest Bird "Song"

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Male white bellbirds have the loudest bird call ever recorded (Credit: Anselmo d’Affonseca)

Most male birds try to attract mates with elegant gestures. Seabirds bob their heads and flutter their wings, while peacocks fan out their beautiful feathers. However, the white bellbird, endemic to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, dispenses with the pleasantries and cut to the chase by shrieking in its prospective "date's" face at a deafening 125 decibels (Db)— the loudest bird call ever recorded. To put it in perspective, that is 40 Db higher than the safe hearing range for humans! Prior to this, the honor belonged to another Amazon-dweller — the aptly-named screaming piha — which has a peak recorded "song" volume of 116 Db.

Mario Cohn-Haft, one of the study’s authors, first became familiar with the loud birds through his expeditions in the mountains of the Brazilian Amazon. “We could hear them all over the place, they’re kind of the soundtrack of these forests,” says the ornithologist at Brazil's National Institute of Amazonian Research. “They give out these loud ringing sounds that sound like someone banging on metal, like a blacksmith.

The male white bellbirds save their loudest call for when they are next to a prospective mate (Credit: Anselmo d’Affonseca)

To find out how loud the bird actually was, he and Jeff Podos from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, trekked to the mountains of the Amazon rainforests in northern Brazil in December 2018 and then again in February 2019. What they discovered was fascinating.

The pigeon-sized white bellbirds begin their courtship with a slightly gentler shriek that averages about 116 Db. Upon attracting their potential mate's attention, they ramp up their effort with the deafening 125 Db "song." What was bizarre was that the male began by singing its first note with its back to the female and then turned suddenly. "It's really dramatic. You see this bird spinning around, and he's got his beak wide open," Podos said. "And he blasts the second note right in the place female would have been had she not been smart enough to back off."

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Current Biology on October 21, 2019, are not sure why the females continue to stay relatively close even when the males are singing at full pitch. "Maybe they are trying to assess males up close, though at the risk of some damage to their hearing systems," Podos speculates. Since the unpleasant sound, which increases the male's risk of being detected, was not a survival technique, the researchers concluded that the females might have a preference for louder males. "She is effectively sticking her head in a speaker at a rock concert,” Cohn-Haft says.

The researchers believe the birds' fruit diet allows them to open their beaks wide and belt out loud "songs"(Credit: Anselmo d’Affonseca)

The white bellbird's ability to screech loudly may be the result of its diet, which consists solely of fruits, some the size of golf balls, which the birds swallow in their entirety. Cohn-Haft and Podos believe the birds' tendency to open their beaks wide aid in amplifying their sound, resulting in the full-throated mating calls.

However, the scientists are puzzled about how the birds, both male and female, can withstand the loud songs without going deaf. Cohn-Haft and Podos hope to return to the region in early 2020 to see if they can detect the presence of any adaptations that may help prevent hearing damage. They also hope to witness a successful courtship to understand why loud males attract females.

Resources: earthsky.org, cbc.ca, CNN.com, sciencealert.com

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129 Comments
  • rucusuby-156537615186
    rucusuby-156537615186Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 10:35 am
    wow The Amazon's White Bellbirds Shatter Record For World's Loudest Bird "Song"
    • calebball123
      calebball123Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 8:03 am
      i can only have my Alexa volume to 5
      • nyadesu
        nyadesuMonday, December 2, 2019 at 4:15 pm
        Ha! imagine using it as an alarm clock! lol
        • xxdancer5
          xxdancer5Monday, December 2, 2019 at 1:01 pm
          i was in class listening to this without headphones and it played really loud. oops.............
          • pm-olm
            pm-olmMonday, December 2, 2019 at 10:39 am
            That bird is really loud! How does it do that!
            • pizzagirl7
              pizzagirl7Tuesday, November 26, 2019 at 1:17 pm
              It is scaring its self!😁
              • pizzagirl7
                pizzagirl7Tuesday, November 26, 2019 at 1:16 pm
                I turned up my volume way too loud!
                • roseslove
                  rosesloveMonday, November 25, 2019 at 8:28 am
                  Wow! I did not know that! I also love birds so this was a great article for me! Thanks for posting it! :)
                  • joshandem
                    joshandemTuesday, November 26, 2019 at 5:06 pm
                    I totally agree! It sounds almost like a fire alarm cuz it hurts my ears!
                  • lpscollie01
                    lpscollie01Sunday, November 24, 2019 at 9:17 am
                    It's so loud tho
                    • lpscollie01
                      lpscollie01Sunday, November 24, 2019 at 9:14 am
                      Male: hi be with me!!AAAAA! Female: (ignores and sees other male) Male:😲K