- The call of the male white bellbird (Procnias albus) is the loudest bird call recorded in the world.
- The bellbird’s call can reach 125 decibels, almost as loud as a very loud rock concert, and more than 9 decibels higher than the loudest recorded call of the screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans), which held the previous record of being the world’s loudest bird.
- The male could be producing its chainsaw-like calls to attract a potential mate, the researchers say, but why the female sits so close to the male when it screams, risking hearing damage, is unclear.
When the male white bellbird sings, it’s not just loud: it’s ear-splittingly loud. In fact, the call of this Amazonian bird is the loudest recorded call among all bird species in the world, according to a new study.
The screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans), also an Amazonian species, previously held the record of being the world’s loudest bird. But researchers, who measured both birds’ volumes in the mountains of the Brazilian Amazon, found that the male white bellbird’s calls are on average louder than that of the piha.
The researchers recorded two kinds of white bellbird (Procnias albus) calls: one that was somewhat louder than the recorded piha calls, and another that was extremely loud. The latter reached 125 decibels, more than 9 decibels higher than the loudest recorded call of the piha, and almost as loud as a very noisy rock concert.
Video of a male white bellbird screaming its mating call by Anselmo d’Affonseca
The researchers observed that the pigeon-sized male bellbirds used their loudest call not for long-distance communication, but for female bellbirds that had perched close to them. This, they think, suggests that the males could be producing their chainsaw-like calls to attract potential mates.
“While watching white bellbirds, we were lucky enough to see females join males on their display perches,” Jeffrey Podos of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said in a statement. “In these cases, we saw that the males sing only their loudest songs. Not only that, they swivel dramatically during these songs, so as to blast the song’s final note directly at the females.”
The researchers also noticed that the louder the song, the shorter it lasted. “If sexual selection keeps pushing the song to be louder and louder, it’s going to become shorter and shorter,” Podos told the New York Times.
The female bellbird could be sitting near a loud male to assess it up close, the researchers say. But why she risks hearing damage by doing so is unclear. Moreover, how a half-pound bird produces such a loud call is also a mystery at the moment, the researchers add, although they have noticed that the birds have unusually thick and developed abdominal muscles and ribs.
“We don’t know how small animals manage to get so loud,” Podos said. “We are truly at the early stages of understanding this biodiversity.”
Podos, J., & Cohn-Haft, M. (2019). Extremely loud mating songs at close range in white bellbirds. Current Biology, 29(20), 1068-1069. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.09.028