Industrial Noise Interferes With Breeding Birds

The incessant din from compressor stations located along energy pipelines in Alberta's boreal forest makes it difficult for male ovenbirds to find a mate.

Motors and fans for the compressors are housed in sheds built in the middle of forest clearings of 1 or 2 hectares in size.

The continually-running equipment produces a very loud 75 to 90 decibels, a volume similar to that heard near busy traffic, inside a factory, or next to a screaming child.

This study discovered that 77 percent of male ovenbirds with territories near compressors managed to find mates. This was 15 percent fewer than for ovenbirds at wellpads, which are much quieter installations located in otherwise similar forest clearings. Additionally, 47 percent of male ovenbirds at compressor sites were young birds breeding for the first year compared with 21 percent at wellpads.

Scientists believe that compressor station noise drowns out the song that male ovenbirds sing to attract females. The machinery's racket could also distort birdsong, rendering males as less attractive suitors. Loud compressor stations might interfere as well with the warblers' other vocal communications and with detecting predators. Many other bird species nesting in the forests could also be affected in these ways by the constant blare.

By 2005, there were 5,600 compressor stations scattered throughout northern Alberta's boreal forests, along with numerous other noisy oil and gas facilities, plus many more are planned. The energy industry's noise thus substantially reduces the supply of high-quality habitat available to breeding birds. This experiment also bolsters findings from other research that traffic noise causes birds near busy roads to be less successful at producing young.


Lucas Habib, Erin M. Bayne and Stan Boutin. 2007. Chronic industrial noise affects pairing success and age structure of ovenbirds Seiurus aurocapilla. Journal of Applied Ecology. 44(1): 176-184.

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