A male white bellbird screaming its mating call.

The male white bellbird boasts a black wattle on its beak and a voice that reaches 125 decibels — a higher volume than any other recorded bird. Credit: Anselmo d’Affonseca

Animal behaviour

A bird’s ear-splitting shriek smashes the record for loudest song

The male white bellbird’s voice is powerful enough to damage the hearing of the female he is trying to woo.

When it comes to courtship, some rituals can be raucous. The white bellbird of the Amazonian mountains produces mating calls that can be louder than a bison’s bellows and a howler monkey’s howls.

Jeffrey Podos at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Mario Cohn-Haft at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, Brazil, recorded the songs of both screaming pihas (Lipaugus vociferans), which were the loudest bird songs yet reported, and the 210-gram male white bellbirds (Procnias albus). The researchers found that the bellbird’s song can reach 125 decibels, which is roughly 9 decibels louder than the piha’s song and is as loud as a very noisy rock concert.

The white bellbird’s loud, piercing song contrasts with the softer melody of a member of the Euphonia group of songbirds.

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The researchers also found that when a female white bellbird joined a male on his perches, he sang his loudest song, blasting its final note directly at the female. As the males sang, females moved backwards but remained close, which could expose them to ear damage.

Why females linger as males sing so loudly is unclear, but the scientists suspect they may be trying to assess their mates up close.