Scientists say the male white bellbird has the loudest call of any bird species recorded so far; recording levels louder than a pneumatic drill.
Volume, it seems, is a discerning factor in sexual selection.
Although they're the size of a dove, these birds emit a deafening call that's three times louder than that of screaming pihas (the previous record holder for the loudest bird call) and even louder than the calls of howler monkeys and bison. Details are in the latest Current Biology.
The white bellbird's powerful voice appears to come from its strong chest muscles, according to Cohn-Haft, an ornithologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research.
While examining a bellbird specimen during that trip, Cohn-Haft was struck by the thickness of its abdominal wall.
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He sent photos to Jeffrey Podos, a professor specializing in bioacoustics at the University of MA at Amherst, who was similarly intrigued. "You can hear them from a mile away".
"It does that another three or four times", Podos predicted, "and it's going to just destroy the habitat where we found these birds".
At the top of the mountain, they measured two vocalizations made by the white bellbird: a longer, more elaborate song, and a shorter, more intense one. Traditionally it's been hard for researchers to measure animal sounds in a standardized way, so Podos and his colleagues used new-generation recorders and a laser rangefinder similar to the kind golfers use to determine how far away the animals were.
Still, since the scientists didn't actually observe the birds ever mating, "We don't know if the males we saw were accomplished males or dorks", said Podos.
This, they said, would place a natural anatomical limit on how loud the bird could evolve to become through sexual selection, or selection for traits that are advantageous for reproduction.
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Vanderbilt University professor Nicole Creanza, who was not involved in the study, said the findings were unusual among birds. The white bellbird sings its pile driver tune when a potential mate is nearby.
Meet the white bellbird, which has just beaten out its rainforest neighbor, the screaming piha, for the title of the world's loudest bird.
He added that the bird has a two-toned song: one that it directs away from a female, and another that it blares "right in her face".
Podos thinks that birds are able to sing so loud due to their wide beaks, which they use to swallow fruit whole. They say they will study what kind of call attracts her.
"We knew they would be really loud, but they were a little bit louder than I think we thought they would be", Podos said.
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While there are anecdotal reports of louder birds, Russ Charif, senior bioacoustician at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said via email that he's "not aware of any peer-reviewed scientific papers documenting a louder bird sound".