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A potential metric of the attractiveness of bird song to humans

By T. M. Blackburn, Shan Su, P. Cassey

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The prevalence of passerines (mostly oscines, or songbirds) in international bird trade suggests that the possession or production of a song that is attractive or desirable to people may contribute to the likelihood of a species being traded. Testing this is difficult because we lack a general and readily available metric that quantifies attractiveness of bird song to humans. We propose and validate such a metric, based on the number of sound files lodged for a species on the Xeno-Canto website ( Our hypothesis is that species with more attractive songs are likely to be recorded more often, and so be represented more often in this online bird sound resource, all else being equal. Using a sample of North American and European passerines, we show that song repertoire size and geographic range size are consistently related to the number of recordings on Xeno-Canto. We use these results to derive a metric (the residuals of a model of the number of recordings in Xeno-Canto as a function of geographic range size) that may identify songs that are attractive to humans. Bird species whose songs are known to have inspired classical music, including several well known for their songs (e.g. common nightingale, European blackbird), have higher values of the metric than those that have not been referenced in classical music. The metric may help explain which bird species are present in trade, and so contribute to studies of invasion and conservation biology.

Publication Title Ethology
Volume 120
Issue 4
Pages 305-312
ISBN/ISSN 0179-1613
DOI 10.1111/eth.12211
Language English
Author Address Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Aviaries
  4. Biological resources
  5. Birds
  6. Conservation
  7. Europe
  8. Humans
  9. Mammals
  10. Men
  11. Music
  12. North America
  13. peer-reviewed
  14. Pets and companion animals
  15. Primates
  16. recording
  17. Relationships
  18. Resources
  19. United States of America
  20. vertebrates
  21. vocalizations
  22. Wild animals
  23. wildlife
  24. wildlife management
  1. peer-reviewed