The loudest bird in the world is about the size of a standard ruler, yet its mating call is louder than a thunderclap and just as appealing as a garbage truck backing up, according to a new study.
Nevertheless, the male scores plenty of female birds with his ear-splitting song — especially when he screams it right in a mate’s face.
Scientists say they’ve measured the white bellbird’s cry at a peak level of 125.4 decibels, according to their findings published in the journal Current Biology. That makes it approximately 9 dB louder than the screaming piha, the previous record-holder for loudest bird, according to study authors Mario Cohn-Haft and Jeffrey Podos.
Oh, and it sounds like a fire alarm sounding in a concrete stairwell. So hot (if you’re a bird).
Cohn-Haft and Podos recorded footage and audio of the male bellbird’s mating call during an expedition into Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in 2017. Their footage shows the snow-white, 30 centimetre-high bird screeching out its love tune from the treetops.
The footage also reveals a strange little detail about the bird: it has a ropey black string of skin hanging off its face, which looks like a worm stuck to its nose. The peculiar little piece of skin is called a wattle and many birds have them in different shapes and sizes. Roosters, for example, have red wattles hanging from under their chins.
The white bellbird’s powerful voice appears to come from its strong chest muscles, according to Cohn-Haft, an ornithologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research. He said he dissected one of the birds to figure out how it worked.
“It had a six-pack,” Cohn-Haft told the Guardian.
He added that the bird has a two-toned song: one that it directs away from a female, and another that it blares “right in her face.”
“She knows it’s coming,” he said. “If she didn’t know any better she’d get it in the face.”
This high-decibel foreplay does not render the female deaf, according to Podos, an animal behaviour specialist at the University of Massachusetts and co-author of the study. However, he says more study is needed to determine how the birds avoid suffering damage from these oh-so-alluring screams.
“This is an example of sexual selection gone wild,” Podos told the Guardian.
“You can hear them from a mile away,” Cohn-Haft told the New York Times in a separate interview.
Vanderbilt University professor Nicole Creanza, who was not involved in the study, said the findings were unusual among birds.
“I am surprised that the loudest bird makes loud sounds when the female is so close,” she told the New York Times.
Podos also acknowledged that the bird’s “scream in your face” mating strategy flies in the face of what you might expect.
“They just really seem to be socially awkward,” he said.
Or perhaps birds, like people, just have their kinks.