Faculty Notes

Research on Birdsong Could Lead to a Refinement of Darwinian Theory

For biology professor Heather Williams, the songs that birds sing are more than a pleasant part of a spring day. They are a window into how communication works in the natural world. A birdsong is more than just an encapsulated package of information, it is “a behavior frozen in time.”

One of her projects is to record and map out the songs of Savannah sparrows that spend the warmer months on a small Canadian island, Kent Island, in the Bay of Fundy. With the help of microphones, binoculars, and a well-documented set of individual birds, her research is beginning to create a richer view of how birdsong moves from neighbor to neighbor and generation to generation in the wild. And it could lead to a refined way of looking at how communication fits into evolutionary theory.