Chronic industrial noise affects pairing success and age structure of ovenbirds Seiurus aurocapilla.
Anthropogenic noise is rapidly increasing in wilderness areas as a result of industrial expansion. While many road studies have attempted to assess the effects of industrial noise on birds, conflicting factors such as edge effects often inhibit the ability to draw strong conclusions. We assessed pairing success and age distribution of male ovenbirds Seiurus aurocapilla in the boreal forest of Alberta, Canada, in areas around noise-generating compressor stations compared with areas around habitat-disturbed, but noiseless, wellpads. This allowed us to control for edge effects, human visitation and other factors that are not controlled for in studies of noise generated by roads. Generalized estimating equations (GEE) were used to assess the impacts of noise on ovenbird pairing success, age structure and body morphology. We found a significant reduction in ovenbird pairing success at compressor sites (77%) compared with noiseless wellpads (92%). These differences were apparent regardless of territory quality or individual male quality. Significantly more inexperienced birds breeding for the first time were found near noise-generating compressor stations than noiseless wellpads (48% vs. 30%). While there are multiple proximate explanations for these results, the ultimate cause of the changes seems to be noise pollution. We hypothesize that noise interferes with a male's song, such that females may not hear the male's song at greater distances and/or females may perceive males to be of lower quality because of distortion of song characteristics. Synthesis and applications. This work demonstrates that chronic background noise could be an important factor affecting bird populations. It can impact upon pairing success and age structure of passerines; in boreal Alberta this could pose a problem for certain species as energy development expands rapidly.