Vocal performance influences female response to male bird song: An experimental test


Journal Article

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.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ballentine, B; Hyman, J; Nowicki, S

Published Date

  • January 1, 2004

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 15 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 163 - 168

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1045-2249

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/beheco/arg090

Citation Source

  • Scopus