Vocal performance influences female response to male bird song: An experimental test
Female songbirds are thought to assess males based on aspects of song, such as repertoire size or amount of singing, that could potentially provide information about male quality. A relatively unexplored aspect of song that also might serve as an assessment signal is a male's ability to perform physically challenging songs. Trilled songs, such as those produced by swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana), present males with a performance challenge because trills require rapid and precise coordination of vocal tract movements, resulting in a trade-off between trill rate and frequency bandwidth. This trade-off defines a constraint on song production observed as a triangular distribution in acoustic space of trill rate by frequency bandwidth, with an upper boundary that represents a performance limit. Given this background on song production constraints, we are able to identify a priori which songs are performed with a higher degree of proficiency and, thus, which songs should be more attractive to females. We determined the performance limit for a population of swamp sparrows and measured how well individual males performed songs relative to this limit ("vocal performance"). We then compared female solicitation responses to high-performance versus low-performance versions of the same song type produced by different males. Females displayed significantly more to high-performance songs than to low-performance songs, supporting the hypothesis that females use vocal performance to assess males.
Ballentine, B; Hyman, J; Nowicki, S
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