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Wildsounds: The conversation between a city and nature

When environmental science professor Liam Heneghan moved to Chicago, he noticed something surprising.

The farther he got away from the city, the harder it was to find interesting habitats to study, because there was just a lot of farmland.  He found less of the protected forest preserves or even parks you see inside the city limits.

“Strangely, Chicago is the place you go, that you deliberately seek out if you want to do conservation in the midwest.” Heneghan said. “That blows my mind.”
So when Heneghan discovered a project that set out to record nature sounds across the world, he wanted to make sure cities were a part of it.  He has been recording, alongside his students, in Chicago for about a year.

By listening to nature sounds in the city, researchers have learned the complex way that human noise makes animals change the way they sound; from insects that shift their pitch to be heard over traffic, to birds that sing at different times of day.

But Heneghan does not want the message of the recordings to be that people sounds are bad. He wants this project to help the rest of Chicago have that same experience he did when he first moved here.

When they listen, he wants them to notice how much nature is right here — outside their apartments and office buildings, beside highways and train lines.

Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @shannon_h

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