Episode 111 – White Bellbird: The Avian Airhorn

“And today we’re talking about a bird with perfect projection for a passeriform. But more on that later…”

In the bird world, it takes a lot to attract a mate. Some go for brilliant colorful costumes, other’s choreograph a complex dance, and a select few even dabble in architecture. But why do any of that when you can go for SHEER VOLUME! There’s one little aviator that produces its own air raid siren to get attention from the ladies. When she stops for a closer look, she’s blasted with a wave of sound the likes of which are rare in nature. But sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a new measure up intro this week from one of our good friends Julia, who you hear from every week if you stay until the end of each episode!

Male size 

  • 28.5 cm (11.22 inches). Females are slightly smaller at  27.5 cm
  • How many bellbirds go into the distance of the first long distance telephone call?
  • Hint: The call was sent on August 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell and it was one way.
  • Answer: 33,882 birds. The call was about 6 miles between Brantford and Paris, Ontario, Canada.

Male Weight 

  • 210–215 g 
  • 215 g (0.4 pounds)
  • How many bellbirds go into the weight of The Great Bell of Dhammazedi, which is possibly the largest bell ever cast.
  • Hint: The bell was cast on 5 February 1484 by order of King Dhammazedi of Hanthawaddy Pegu, which is in modern day Myanmar. The bell was stolen by Portugese mercenary warlord Filipe de Brito e Nicote in 1608. He tried to transport it across the river to be made into cannons. He put it on a raft and towed it with his flagship gallion. At the intersection of the Bago and Yangon Rivers, the raft broke and the bell sank into the water. Oh… it also dragged the ship down with it! The bell hasn’t been found to this day.
  • 1,381,874.43 bellbirds. The bell was 655,000 pounds (297,103 kilos).

Major Fact: A Projecting Passeriform 

  • The White Bellbird just recently entered the record books as the loudest recorded bird.
  • The record was previously health by another member of their family, the screaming piha.
    • Which is a bummer, because the piha has really built its brand around loudness.
  • The Piha still has the record for the loudest bird song, but the Bellbird has a louder call.
  • The Bellbird was able to reach an amplitude of 125 db, which is louder than marching bands, rock concerts, and ambulance sirens. 
    • It’s nearly as loud as a jack hammer.
    • At that volume, without earplugs, you reach the daily recommended sound exposure limit between one and seven seconds before damaging hearing.
    • Luckily, the bellbird only sustains that level for about a second.
  • The call also sounds like a machine. It def doesn’t sound like a bird.
  • Birds make calls as a part of mating displays. 
    • Bird mating can be elaborate and male birds compete with one another to attract females. (see bower birds)
    • Most loud calls are designed to attract attention from far away.
    • However, that may not be the case with the bellbird.
  • Researchers Jeffrey Podos and Mario Cohn-Haft published a report in 2019 called Extremely loud mating songs at close range in white bellbirds.
  • The report said that the bellbirds actually are very close to each other when they make this call. 
  • It’s likely that the loudness is just an elaborate display of mating eligibility, rather than a function of going for distance.
  • It’s led to an ironic consequence.
    • The male’s calls have gotten so loud that the females need to maintain distance despite being interested in the male. 
    • Males only call that loud when the female is on a display perch. Then they turn to face her to directly blast her with the sound.
    • The report concluded by saying, “We propose that bellbird females balance an interest in sampling males at close range with a need to protect themselves from hearing damage.”


Hey…pssst… LDT listeners… Did you know we have t-shirts available for purchase? We have shirts, hoodies, and kid’s tees! Just go to teespring.com/stores/taxonomytees or go to ldtaxonomy.com/taxonomytees and click the link!