The Impacts of Sonic Interference on Bird Behavior and Communication

Hey everyone! My name is Meagan Phillips, and I’m a junior majoring in Critical Animal Studies (self-designed). I’m interested in the way humans and animals interact, both at an individual level and on a broader scale. This summer, I’ll be continuing research with Professors John Swaddle and Dana Moseley, who have been collaborating on a project to test the effectiveness of a sonic net on deterring birds from a food source. The sonic net is a device that issues a beam of sound encompassing all of the frequencies that birds use to communicate. Because communication is vital for birds (alarm calls, food calls, territorial and breeding songs), the prediction is that birds will avoid the beam of sound even if it means forsaking a perfectly good food source (in this case, a bird feeder). If it works, the hope is that it can be applied on a larger scale to prevent birds from feeding in agricultural fields and to deter them from skyscrapers, wind turbines, radio towers, and other tall manmade structures during migration.

This semester, Professor Moseley invited me to help with the project. Between classes, I helped fill and weigh the bird feeders at each of the different study sites around campus, recording the numbers so that at the conclusion of the study, we can see the volume of food consumed at the control feeders and the feeders where the sonic net was turned on. I also helped set up equipment, and I spent many hours watching videos from the cameras set up at the feeders, recording how long each individual of each species stayed on the feeder. In the meantime, I was taking Ornithology with Professor Dan Cristol, and he encouraged me to do my semester project with data from the sonic net research. After watching the behavior of the birds interacting on the feeder, I decided I wanted to know more about dominance hierarchies and vigilance rituals, so I chose the Carolina chickadee as my study species and looked at how long each chickadee stayed on the feeder, and how many seeds it acquired, in different situations: when they were uninterrupted, when they fed simultaneously with other chickadees, and when they fed with individuals of other species. I also looked for key aggressive behaviors that might cause displacement from the feeder.

This summer I plan to take this research even further, adding the element of the sonic net to see how the beam of sound changes the Carolina chickadee’s dominance and vigilance behaviors. I am excited to be a part of the research behind this new technology, and I am especially curious about how the sonic net will change relationships between species and alter the balance of relationships in multi-species foraging flocks (for example, if dominant species like the tufted titmouse stop coming to the feeder with the sonic net, will the Carolina chickadees take advantage of the absence?). This kind of information will be useful in considering current and future ecological changes due to humans – global climate change, habitat destruction and alteration, light and noise pollution, etc. As the species makeups of different habitats start changing, it is important for conservation biologists to anticipate how the remaining species will respond. So my goals for this summer’s research are twofold – to further understand the impacts of the sonic net, and to learn more about how dominance hierarchies change due to environmental changes.


  1. Matheus Barros says:

    Hello Meagan,
    First, congrats for your research. It sounds really great.
    Well, for this summer, I’m working at Purdue to investigate barrier effects caused by roads and then its interference with the communication between birds. From that, the idea is to use Geographic information system (GIS) to model this.
    My field of study is GIS, that’s why I’m wondering if you have some reading about that.
    Thanks in advance!
    Good luck in your project!