by Ben Worthen

Wireless Ring Tones Influence Birdsong

May 01, 20022 mins

One story making the rounds on the Web is that birds living in urban areas have started to mimic the rings of cell phones in their songs. It’s a potential nuisance of Hitchcockian proportions.

A single starling chirping by a sidewalk cafŽ could cause hundreds of cases of tennis elbow as socialites and yuppies reach for their phones. More terrifying is the carnage a winged beast could unleash if it were unable to differentiate between the coo of a mate and the ring of a young woman’s cell phone. It’s chilling. Fortunately, it isn’t true.

John Bianchi, a spokesman for the National Audubon Society, says that while there have been documented cases of birds repeating car alarms and the beep trucks make when they back up, they simply don’t hear enough cell phone rings to learn the call. “If you put a starling in a cage and played [a cell phone ring] over and over again, it would get it,” Bianchi concedes. But a bird being attracted to a cell phone ring “is something that no one needs to worry about?ever.”

A more pressing problem, at least to the ornithologists, is that noise pollution has caused some birds in big cities to lose their ability to sing. “Singing is a learned activity; it is not innate,” Bianchi says. “In some big cities where there is a lot of noise, groups of birds don’t remember or know their full song.”