Impacts of oil well drilling and operating noise on abundance and productivity of grassland songbirds.
Anthropogenic noise from natural resource extraction may negatively impact many species, particularly those reliant on acoustic communication. To compare the impacts of several types of noise resulting from oil extraction operations on habitat use and productivity of grassland songbirds, we designed and implemented a novel large-scale, spatially and temporally replicated experiment. We recreated soundscapes produced by drilling and operating oil well noise, and compared impacts of noise-producing and quiet playback infrastructure, in twenty-nine 64.7-ha native prairie sites in Alberta, Canada, from 2013 to 2015. Drilling noise recordings played 24 hr/day for 10 days, twice during each breeding season, while oil well operating noise played continuously, 24 hr/day, throughout each ~90-day breeding season. Despite the much shorter duration of drilling noise playbacks, drilling noise negatively impacted three of our four focal species, and had a much greater impact on habitat use and productivity than did well operating noise. Infrastructure also impacted Vesper Sparrows and Sprague's Pipits, even in the absence of noise. Synthesis and applications. Acute oil drilling noise had a greater negative impact on breeding migratory birds when compared to chronic oil well noise, perhaps because drilling noise is unpredictable. While this study demonstrates that noise alone can negatively impact habitat use, nesting success and nestling quality, it is also clear that effective mitigation strategies require both noise and above-ground infrastructure management to reduce impacts on wildlife.