Had John Keats lived in the 21st century, he may not have found the inspiration for Ode to a Nightingale. Researchers discovered that mercury poisoning is causing wild birds to sing shorter, simpler, and lower pitched songs, which may jeopardize their reproduction and survival, according to an Environmental Health News report. The scientists suspect the toxic metal—known to cause mental retardation in exposed human infants—damages areas of a bird’s brain associated with learning, they reported in The Auk. Listen for yourself how songs sung by healthy and mercury-contaminated zebra finches differ.
*Correction, 29 August, 6 p.m.: This story previously misattributed the report by Environmental Health News.