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Eastern bluebird and tree swallow response to noise from natural gas compressor stations

Cite this dataset

Brittingham, Margaret; Williams, Danielle; Avery, Julian; Gabrielson, Thomas (2021). Eastern bluebird and tree swallow response to noise from natural gas compressor stations [Dataset]. Dryad.


Natural gas compressor stations emit loud, low-frequency noise that travels hundreds of meters into undisturbed habitat. We used experimental playback of natural gas compressor noise to determine whether and how noise influenced settlement decisions and reproductive output as well as when in the nesting cycle birds were most affected by compressor noise. We established 80 nest boxes to attract Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) to locations where they had not previously nested and experimentally introduced shale gas compressor noise to half the boxes while the other 40 boxes served as controls.  Our experimental design allowed us to control for the confounding effects of both physical changes to the environment associated with compressor stations as well as site tenacity or the tendency for birds to return to the specific locations where they had previously bred. We incorporated behavioral observations with video cameras placed within boxes to determine how changes in behavior might lead to any noted changes in fitness.  Neither species demonstrated a preference for box type (quiet or noisy), and there was no difference in clutch size between box types. In both species, we observed a reduction in incubation time, hatching success, and fledging success (proportion of all eggs that fledged) between quiet and noisy boxes but no difference in provisioning rates. Nest success (probability of fledging at least one young; calculated from all nests that were initiated) was not affected by noise in either species suggesting that noise did not increase rates of either depredation or abandonment but instead negatively impacted fitness through reduced hatching and fledging success. Compressor noise caused behavioral changes that led to reduced reproductive success; for Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows, gas infrastructure can create an equal-preference ecological trap where birds do not distinguish between lower and higher-quality territories even when they incur fitness costs.


We established 80 nest boxes in mid-March 2017 prior to the onset of the breeding season to attract eastern bluebirds and tree swallows. Half of the boxes were exposed to experiemental noise from compressor stations and half served as controls.  We monitored boxes throughout the season and recorded box settlement as well as reproductive data.  We used video monitoring to record incubation and feeding behavior. See manuscript for complete description of methods. Data files are excel files with nesting data; and feeding and incubation data summarized from videos. 

Usage notes

We are uploading 5 data files.  Each data file except the Mark text file has its own readme file.  Description of the data sets is below.  

  1. Mrk_age.txt- Text file – Text file to run in Program Mark
    1. Noise.x (1=noise, 0=control)
    2. EABL- 1=eastern bluebird, 0=tree swallow
    3. Attempt – 1= first attempt, 0=later attempt
  2. Basic_nest_data – nest data for EABL and TRSW
  3. Feeding_data_older – young 9-11 days old
  4. Feeding_data_younger – Young 4-7 days old
  5. Incubation_data


United States Department of Agriculture, Award: National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project 1019213 PEN04702

Pennsylvania State University, Award: Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence

Association of Field Ornithologists

Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium