for whom the bird tolls

World’s Loudest Bird Seduces Females by Screaming in Their Faces

Photo: Anselmo d’Affonseca

There are many ways for birds to go about leading fulfilling romantic lives. They can be hot, political, even smart. One bird, though, is trying to beat the odds by sounding like one thousand sneakers squeaking in unison upon a newly waxed basketball court, or like if Gilbert Gottfried blew a referee’s whistle directly into your ear.

Basically this bird is unpleasant, intimidating, and more grating than 100 percent of alarm-clock noises. The New York Times reports that, according to a paper published on Monday in Current Biology, the white bellbird of Brazil is far and away the loudest of any bird, an accomplishment he should be proud of. Jeffrey Podos, a professor with a specialty in bioacoustics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, says its call can reach up to 125 decibels, three times more intense than the second-loudest bird on record and also any jackhammer, with an amplitude that rivals that of a pile driver.

An additional peculiarity of the bellbird’s strident tolling is the distance from which it chooses to signal to potential mates. Apparently, male bellbirds sidle right up to the females so they can scream at them. The Times explains, “He starts facing away from her, and then whips around to blast the loudest, record-setting note right into her face.” Podos pointed out that many birds — satin bowerbirds, for instance — actually soften their bodily displays to attract a mate, so the bellbird “goes against expectations” and “just really seems to be socially awkward.” Nicole Creanza, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, remarked to the Times, “I am surprised that the loudest bird makes loud sounds when the female is so close.”

I, however, am quite a bit less surprised. In this way the bird reminds me of a man who briefly sat next to me at a bar this past weekend. He did not speak to me but managed to hold my attention nonetheless with his obscenely loud phone conversations. Was he hitting on me or merely yelling at his dad about how to avoid jail time for insider trading? Hard to tell.

World’s Loudest Bird Woos Females by Yelling in Their Faces