Shh! Animals are sleeping

Hi, it’s Livnah, office manager at Datawrapper, back for another Weekly Chart. After wanting to try a bar chart and table in my first Weekly Chart and a locator map in the second, this time the data came first and the chart type followed.

I recently spent a lovely weekend in the quiet countryside of Brandenburg, one hour outside of Berlin — nothing but a cabin in the woods. But to my surprise it wasn’t as quiet as I thought it would be. Especially in the early mornings, the fields there were actually louder than my apartment in the midst of noisy Berlin (which, since I’m lucky to live off a back courtyard, is actually not noisy at all).

In Brandenburg it wasn’t the deep sounds of cars, people, or general city life, but many high pitched sounds of animals, mostly birds and squirrels, which I wasn’t used to in such a lovely abundance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! It was a very pleasant “noise” to wake up to, and luckily in February the birds only start chirping with the sunrise around 6 a.m. — late for them, as opposed to 3 a.m. in the summer.

This change of environment got me thinking about what the animals themselves might be hearing and be disturbed by. Does the squirrel ever wish the birds could be quieter when it tries to sleep? And what about animals that aren’t living in their own habitat anymore, but migrate because of the changing climate or are moved by humans to live in zoos or circuses. While the new soundscape that came with my chosen change of scenery was very lovely, unfamiliar sounds that aren’t natural to an animal’s habitat might impact them differently and negatively, which had never occurred to me in the realm of sound before.

So down the internet search rabbit hole I went: animal hearing and voicing abilities, frequency ranges, and how different they are to humans. Unfortunately no rabbits were sighted outside the cabin, but here’s a small excerpt of what I did find.

My initial question was: “I can hear it, can they hear it too?” This first graph shows only data in the human hearing range of 20 to 20,000 Hertz. Bird sounds are within that range, but of higher frequency compared to a dog’s bark. (For the songbirds in Brandenburg — of course an ostrich has a very different pitch than a sparrow.)

Since of course there are many sounds that I can not hear, I made a second chart with fuller data. It shows the full range of sounds that all these animals can make and hear, including many that are beyond humans' hearing abilities, especially on the ultrasound side of the spectrum above 20,000 Hertz.

Although I knew that many animals do have better hearing than humans, I never thought about it further and was quite surprised by how far I had to stretch the chart to make all the data visible and not be "off the charts."

I hope to go back to Brandenburg very soon to do more thinking about sounds, solutions for sound pollution, and its impact on animals. Noise-cancelling headphones might be the next big thing that all the cool Berlin pigeons are gonna wear soon.

Come back next week for an Unwrapped-themed Weekly Chart!