Texting while driving can be deadly. A recent study finds that tweets while flying, among some species of migratory birds. Researchers have discovered that birds that use weak and high-frequency vocalizations known as flight calls during their night migrations are losing their way, colliding with buildings and possibly attracting more birds to their unwelcome ends.
Many bird species, including swallows, finches and sparrows, use night flight calls to help the flock navigate as they migrate. Previous studies have found that these birds emit chirps more often when flying over urban areas with lots of artificial light, leading scientists to wonder if light disorients them and causes them to call even more.
To see if there was any connection between these flight calls and the number of birds crashing into the city's buildings, researchers used 40 years of bird collisions in Chicago, Illinois, which this week was named one of the most dangerous cities for migratory birds. The team also used data from 1 year of bird collisions in Cleveland, Ohio, with a total of more than 70,000 flight records of 93 species.
The researchers who report today on the website are the species that frequently collide with buildings. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The calls themselves could be part of a vicious circle, the scientists add: birds disoriented by artificial lights shout and attract other birds, which also crash into the bright buildings.
By illuminating this key avian behavior, scientists hope to better understand the human impact on our feathered friends and convince people to turn off their lights at night.