Development of tonal quality in birdsong: Further evidence from song sparrows
Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) songs are composed largely of pure- tone notes. Song sparrows raised in acoustic isolation (i.e, never hearing conspecific songs) tend to produce half of their notes with harmonic overtones, an atypical tonal structure, suggesting that exposure to pure tones is necessary for the development of normal tonal quality. The experiment presented here directly investigated the influence of early exposure to songs with different tonal qualifies on subsequent production. Seven young song sparrow males were exposed to 16 normal, pure- tone song sparrow songs and 6 males were exposed to the same 16 song types with added harmonic overtones. Birds in both groups learned equally well, confirming an earlier finding that tonal quality does not influence selection of models during the sensitive period for song acquisition. Birds exposed exclusively to harmonic song models, however, produced over 85% of their learned notes in a pure-tone fashion, even though they had never heard pure-tone sounds. Thus, pure tones do not need to be experienced directly by song sparrows, but exposure to some features of species-typical song models appears to facilitate the reproduction of models in a pure-tone fashion.
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