Bird song-sharing like verbal sparring

August 10, 2011
Research conducted at Queen's University Biological Statio in Kingston, Canada, suggests that song-sharing amongst song sparrow populations is actually an aggressive behavior, akin to flinging insults back and forth. Credit: Scott MacDougall-Shackleton.

While singing the same songs as your neighbours may sound harmonious, research conducted at Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) suggests that song-sharing amongst song sparrow populations is actually an aggressive behavior, akin to flinging insults back and forth.

"It's been hypothesized that repertoire size and complexity is about the singer's ability to advertise their quality as a mate," says lead author Janet Lapierre, a visiting from the University of Western Ontario (UWO). "Song-sharing, where birds sing a smaller number of their species' greatest hits, is a more aggressive and attention-seeking behaviour. It's also a behaviour most often displayed by belligerent older males."

Ms Lapierre and fellow QUBS researchers Daniel Mennill (University of Windsor) and Beth MacDougall-Shackleton (UWO) used a 16-channel acoustic location system to investigate whether male preferentially choose to sing highly shared song types or whether they use all song types interchangeably. They found no general tendency amongst the to either preference.

Instead, they found that the performance of highly shared songs is determined more by individual differences like age and the kind of neighbourhood the sparrows live in. 'Tougher' neighbourhoods had a higher percentage of sparrows who engaged in more aggressive song-sharing bouts, whereas 'mild-mannered' tended to support more conflict-averse sparrows that avoid using shared song types.

Older male sparrows were the most likely to engage in more aggressive or attention-seeking song-sharing bouts, suggesting that older males may be more willing or able to risk conflict and may also have more experience in which songs are effective signals in their local area.

"The novelty of this study was that we looked at how birds use songs rather than just examining the content of their repertoires," says Dr. MacDougall-Shackleton, a biology professor from the University of Western Ontario and a regular QUBS researcher. "We really could not have done this research without the longstanding study population of song sparrows at the Queen's University Biological Station."

These findings were recently published in Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.

Explore further: It takes two to tutor a sparrow

Related Stories

It takes two to tutor a sparrow

October 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- It may take a village to raise a child, and apparently it takes at least two adult birds to teach a young song sparrow how and what to sing.

Steroids, not songs, spur growth of brain regions in sparrows

July 23, 2007

Neuroscientists are attempting to understand if structural changes in the brain are related to sensory experience or the performance of learned behavior, and now University of Washington researchers have found evidence that ...

Why the swamp sparrow is hitting the high notes

January 9, 2009

Birdsongs are used extensively as models for animal signaling and human speech, offering a glimpse of how our own communicating abilities developed. A new study by Adrienne DuBois, a graduate student at the University of ...

Recommended for you

Cow gene study shows why most clones fail

December 9, 2016

It has been 20 years since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned in Scotland, but cloning mammals remains a challenge. A new study by researchers from the U.S. and France of gene expression in developing clones now shows ...

Blueprint for shape in ancient land plants

December 9, 2016

Scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge have unlocked the secrets of shape in the most ancient of land plants using time-lapse imaging, growth analysis and computer modelling.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.