There’s nothing more relaxing than awakening to the melodic trill of birdsong at daybreak… unless that bird is a male white bellbird. Not only are male white bellbirds the loudest birds in the world, but they’re also Emmy award-winners, playing the role of “supersonic claxon” in “Alien Spaceship Alarm III: Annoyance.”
This is no exaggeration. Male white bellbird shrieks can reach upwards of 120 decibels, according to Science Alert, which puts their output somewhere between a jackhammer and a thunderclap, according to the Hearing Health Foundation. Regular exposure of just a few seconds at that level risks permanent hearing loss!
Unless you’re reading from the depths of the Amazon rainforest, you probably won’t be hearing these birds in person, but that doesn’t mean they’re not shattering eardrums with minimal remorse.
The loud and proud male white bellbird
As is often the case with those who lack volume control, male white bellbirds seem to have no regard for those listening nearby. In fact, it seems that they prefer to do it as close as possible to female bellbirds. Dr. Joseph Tobias of Imperial College London speculates the birds’ impassioned screaming is a sexual signal, which would explain why being louder and closer is better: it communicates passion and vitality.
This hypothesis would also explain why the bird has evolved to be so well-suited to the task of mimicking a vuvuzela, because sounding like the world’s worst horn is the best way to show you’re horny.
Male white bellbirds have big beaks for projecting clearly, along with surprisingly great abs, which help them push more air for their simple, blaring cry. Again, no exaggeration: after examining a captured specimen an ornithologist reported (very scientifically) that “it had a six pack.” Why worry about a complex melody when you’ve got abs of steel and can scream at ear-shattering volume? Plenty of singers have made a career of it.
Weirder still, they’re tiny, weighing less than half a pound, and have a weird inflatable wattle hanging off their beak that makes them look like they plucked a braid off of Ice-T. Maybe they’re just using their attention as a platform for landing a role in Law and Order: Amazon.
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