Responses to songs with altered tonal quality by adult song sparrows (melospiza melodia)
Pure-tone sounds are a common and distinctive feature of many birdsongs. We used field playback experiments to test whether this tonal quality is perceptually salient to adult male song sparrows in the context of song recognition, by comparing responses to playback of normal songs with responses elicited by songs that had harmonics added. This species was chosen for study based on the recent finding that young song sparrows do not show a preference for songs with pure tones over songs with harmonics when choosing model songs to copy during their sensitive phase for learning. We found adult song sparrows to be significantly more responsive to normal song than to harmonic song, consistent with results from adult birds of other species. We conclude that the perceptual salience of the tonal quality of song changes during ontogeny or is context-dependent.