Kinematics of birdsong: functional correlation of cranial movements and acoustic features in sparrows.


Journal Article

The movements of the head and beak of songbirds may play a functional role in vocal production by influencing the acoustic properties of songs. We investigated this possibility by synchronously measuring the acoustic frequency and amplitude and the kinematics (beak gape and head angle) of singing behavior in the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and the swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). These birds are closely related emberizine sparrows, but their songs differ radically in frequency and amplitude structure. We found that the acoustic frequencies of notes in a song have a consistent, positive correlation with beak gape in both species. Beak gape increased significantly with increasing frequency during the first two notes in Z. albicollis song, with a mean frequency for note 1 of 3 kHz corresponding to a gape of 0.4 cm (a 15 degrees gape angle) and a mean frequency for note 2 of 4 kHz corresponding to a gape of 0.7 cm (a 30 degrees gape angle). The relationship between gape and frequency for the upswept third note in Z. albicollis also was significant. In M. georgiana, low frequencies of 3 kHz corresponding to beak gapes of 0.2-0.3 cm (a 10-15 degrees break angle), whereas frequencies of 7-8 kHz were associated with flaring of the beak to over 1 cm (a beak angle greater than 50 degrees). Beak gape and song amplitude are poorly correlated in both species. We conclude that cranial kinematics, particularly beak movements, influence the resonance properties of the vocal tract by varying its physical dimensions and thus play an active role in the production of birdsong.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Westneat, MW; Long, JH; Hoese, W; Nowicki, S

Published Date

  • September 1993

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 182 /

Start / End Page

  • 147 - 171

PubMed ID

  • 8228778

Pubmed Central ID

  • 8228778

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1477-9145

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0022-0949


  • eng