Song characteristics track bill morphology along a gradient of urbanization in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Mathieu Giraudeau, Paul M. Nolan, Caitlin E. Black, Stevan R. Earl, Masaru Hasegawa, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Introduction: Urbanization can considerably impact animal ecology, evolution, and behavior. Among the new conditions that animals experience in cities is anthropogenic noise, which can limit the sound space available for animals to communicate using acoustic signals. Some urban bird species increase their song frequencies so that they can be heard above low-frequency background city noise. However, the ability to make such song modifications may be constrained by several morphological factors, including bill gape, size, and shape, thereby limiting the degree to which certain species can vocally adapt to urban settings. We examined the relationship between song characteristics and bill morphology in a species (the house finch, Haemorhous mexicanus) where both vocal performance and bill size are known to differ between city and rural animals. Results: We found that bills were longer and narrower in more disturbed, urban areas. We observed an increase in minimum song frequency of urban birds, and we also found that the upper frequency limit of songs decreased in direct relation to bill morphology. Conclusions: These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that birds with longer beaks and therefore longer vocal tracts sing songs with lower maximum frequencies because longer tubes have lower-frequency resonances. Thus, for the first time, we reveal dual constraints (one biotic, one abiotic) on the song frequency range of urban animals. Urban foraging pressures may additionally interact with the acoustic environment to shape bill traits and vocal performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number83
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 12 2014


  • Bill shape
  • Noise pollution
  • Singing behavior
  • Urban impacts
  • Vocal communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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