Prince Frederick draws attention to the need for ‘no honking’ boards on the roads bordering bird habitats in Chennai

Honk honk. Bam bam. Meonp teeun. Did Did Did Did-you-do-it. Peem peem. Tat tat tat tat — sounds that signify an unlikely fusion. Nobody will miss the cacophony orchestrated by vehicles in this ‘music sheet’, but only keen birders will notice that it is interspersed with the nasal calls of the Pheasant-tailed jacana, the rapid bill-clatter of the Asian Openbill and the unintentionally naughty sounds of the Red-wattled Lapwing. This strange composition of sounds iscommon on two busy roads on the southern section of the city, namely Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam Radial Road and Medavakkam-Sholinganallur Link Road.

These two stretches have roadside wetlands, Pallikaranai Marsh and Sholinganallur-Perumbakkam Marsh respectively, a fact lost on most motorists. As they connect a raft of sleeper towns to the IT corridor, these roads are busy during the day. The honking is at its highest at peak hours. The birds in these habitats can be done some good if ‘No horn, please!’ or ‘Honk low, please!’ boards are put up.

The Sholinganallur-Perumbakkam wetland not being officially recognised as one, absence of such boards does not strike one as odd. But the silence on needless honking at Pallikaranai — named one of the most significant wetlands in the country — is baffling. At Pallikaranai, a row of boards warns off possible trespassers and dumpers of garbage. But there is none to check compulsive honking behaviour.

“We are now responding to the problem of high decibel levels during Deepavali. Efforts at preventing the use of fire crackers in villages around Koonthankulam, Vedanthangal and Vettangudi bird sanctuaries show a sensitivity towards birds in the wild. But we turn a deaf ear to more persistent sources of noise pollution that affects our bird habitats. Traffic noise has an effect on the behaviour of birds,” says K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan of The Nature Trust.

A few years ago, Kisten M. Parris and Angela Schneider, scientists and ecologists from Australia, studied the “Impacts of Traffic Noise and Traffic Volume on Birds of Roadside Habitats”. Their study, centred in the Mornington Peninsula in southeastern Australia, involved 58 roadside habitats and two species, the Grey Shrike-thrush and the Grey Fantail. Quoting from this extensive 2008 study, published in Ecology and Society (, “the lower singing Grey Shrike-thrush sang at a higher frequency in the presence of traffic noise, with a predicted increase in dominant frequency of 5.8 Hz/dB of traffic noise, and a total effect size of 209 Hz.”

Parris and Schneider further noted that traffic noise came in the way of birds “detecting the songs of con-specifics, establishing and maintaining territories, attracting mates and maintaining pair bonds.” With these findings, these scientists concluded that breeding success rate could be low in roadside habitats ruled by traffic noise.

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