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Female Birdsong Is Finally Getting the Attention It Deserves

Last week Audubon published an article about the lack of female birdsong recordings and the community sourced project that is tackeling this skew.

There’s a gender gap in ornithology—and this one has nothing to do with equal pay. Instead, it comes down to a lack of love for female birdsong.

Experts have long been curious as to how male birds use their voices to communicate, attract mates, and fend off competition. But they've spent less energy investigating the same behaviors in females. This bias has been ingrained in ornithology since its earliest moments. John James Audubon, for instance, described male hummingbirds as highly aggressive courters, and called their mates passive and delicate. Yet he failed to note that female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have their own fighting words: a series of brusque squeaks to warn trespassers away from their nests or food supplies. In contrast, Margaret Morse Nice wrote of the female Song Sparrow's vocal talents in great awe and detail.

Decades later, the lack of gender parity is still a common narrative in ornithology. “The textbook story is: Male birds sing,” says Katharina Riebel, a professor of biology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who’s been investigating avian sound for nearly two decades. Scientists have identified close to 660 species with long, complex female vocalizations, she adds—but that’s about where the knowledge ends.

Click here to read the full article.

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