World's Loudest Bird Is Louder Than a Motorcycle

The dove-sized male white bellbird makes ear-piercing calls to attract a mate. Anselmo d'Affonseca/Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia

When the male white bellbird wants to impress a potential mate, he sings sweet nothings to attract her attention. Only in the case of this bright, dove-sized bird, his songs are ear-piercing shrieks that rival a chainsaw or a crash of thunder.

Researchers recently documented the call of this Amazon crooner and found the song of the male white bellbird (Procnias albus) averages 116 decibels. It can get as loud as 125.4 decibels. By comparison, a motorcycle or jackhammer is about 100 decibels and a chainsaw or thunderclap is about 120 decibels.

Not surprisingly, the calls can be heard for miles to attract potential mates. But they are not only singing for females who might be far away. They also belt their ballads for females who are incredibly close by, even turning their heads in order to blast their deafening songs right at their intended paramours.

"We were lucky enough to see females join males on their display perches," says study lead author Jeff Podos, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in a statement.

"In these cases, we saw that the males sing only their loudest songs. Not only that, they swivel dramatically during these songs, so as to blast the song's final note directly at the females. We would love to know why females willingly stay so close to males as they sing so loudly. Maybe they are trying to assess males up close, though at the risk of some damage to their hearing systems."

Volume affects performance

Take a listen to the video above. But you might want to turn down the volume first.

The white bellbird is about three times as loud as the the next loudest bird, the screaming piha. Interestingly, with volume comes some performance constraints. As the bird gets louder, the song gets shorter. Researchers say this is likely because the bird's respiratory system has a limit to its ability to control airflow and generate sound.

But this new research helps explain earlier studies which found the bird has unusually thick, well-developed abdominal muscles and ribs. The better to serenade females very loudly, apparently.

Podos says the findings, which were published in the journal Current Biology, are just the beginning, as they work to understand the other physical traits that allow such intense volume.

"We don't know how small animals manage to get so loud," he says. "We are truly at the early stages of understanding this biodiversity."