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Anthropogenic noise is one of the fastest growing, globally widespread pollutants, affecting countless species worldwide. Despite accumulating evidence of the negative impacts of wind turbines on wildlife, little is known about how the noise they generate affects ecological systems. Songbirds may be susceptible to noise pollution due to their reliance on vocal communication and thus, in this field study, we examined how songbirds are affected by wind turbine noise. We broadcasted noise produced by one wind turbine in a migratory stopover site during the nonbreeding season. Throughout the study, we repeatedly monitored the acoustic environment and songbird community before, during, and after the noise treatments with passive acoustic monitoring and mist netting. We employed generalized linear mixed effects models to assess the impact of experimental noise treatment on birds behavior and likelihood ratio tests to compare models with variables of interest with null models. The daily number of birds in the presence of wind turbine noise decreased by approximately 30% compared with the before and after phases. This reduction had a significant spatial pattern; the largest decrease was closer to the speaker and on its downwind side, fitting measured sound propagation. Although we found no impact on species diversity, two out of three most common species showed clear avoidance behavior: 45% and 36% decrease in abundance for the lesser whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) and Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala momus), respectively. In the after phase, there were lingering effects on the lesser whitethroat. The age structure of the lesser whitethroat population was affected because only juvenile birds showed avoidance behavior. No difference in avoidance extent was found between migratory and nonmigratory species, but the impacts of displacement on migrants during stopover are especially troubling from a conservation perspective. Our results stress the need to address the impacts of noise pollution on wildlife when planning noise-generating infrastructures, such as wind turbines, to allow for sustainable development without threatening already declining songbird populations.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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