Communicating nightingales: Older males trill better

August 12, 2013

Older male nightingales perform faster and more demanding trills than their younger rivals. These findings were published by researchers at the University of Basel and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in the online edition of Journal of Avian Biology. With up to 100 trill elements a second, nightingales belong to the fastest singers.

Nightingales are famous for their large song repertoire: Each male can perform around 200 different song types. Facing this great variety, how can a female listener assess correctly if the male counterpart is a suitable mating partner? It is unlikely that the size of the repertoire is used as a performance indicator, since it would take about one hour for a male nightingale to sing through its whole song list. Thus, it is more likely that the quality of certain elements or song types are attended to for quick assessment.

Around 20 percent of nightingale songs contain rapid broadband trills that are characterized by particularly large frequency bandwidths. Since the performance of these sounds is very demanding, the rate at which they can be repeated is limited: "Trying to sing rapidly increasing sounds in fast repetition is very hard for us humans as well," says PD Dr. Valentin Amrhein, Zoologist at the University of Basel and head of the research station Petite Camargue Alsacienne in which the data was collected. Singing rapid broadband trills comes at a certain price for the male nightingale. Thus, it is suggested that males in good physical condition trill better and that therefore, trilling is a good indicator for male "quality".

Indeed, the scientists found out that older male nightingales perform faster trills with a broader than younger males. Based on the trills, females could therefore assess the age of the male singer and mate preferably with older ones. This behavior makes sense for because older males are often more successful in reproduction.

Compared to 46 investigated in other studies, the nightingale holds an exceptional position: The use trills with a frequency bandwidth and repetition rates twice as wide or fast than that measured in other birds. This makes the nightingale one of the most sophisticated singers.

Explore further: When singing mice choose a mate, a skillful song gets the gal

More information: Original Source Philipp Sprau, Tobias Roth, Valentin Amrhein & Marc Naguib The predictive value of trill performance in a large repertoire songbird, the nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, Journal of Avian Biology, 2013. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-048X.2013.00113.x

Related Stories

Cuckolded males sing louder

August 23, 2012

The song of male songbirds is multifaceted and has two main functions: to repel rivals and to attract mates. Females often pay attention to certain features within a song, such as the presence of special syllables, to assess ...

Superb lyrebirds move to the music

June 6, 2013

When male superb lyrebirds sing, they often move their bodies to the music in a choreographed way, say researchers who report their findings in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on June 6. The findings add to evidence ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

4 million years at Africa's salad bar

August 3, 2015

As grasses grew more common in Africa, most major mammal groups tried grazing on them at times during the past 4 million years, but some of the animals went extinct or switched back to browsing on trees and shrubs, according ...

A look at living cells down to individual molecules

August 3, 2015

EPFL scientists have been able to produce footage of the evolution of living cells at a nanoscale resolution by combining atomic force microscopy and an a super resolution optical imaging system that follows molecules that ...

New lizard named after Sir David Attenborough

August 3, 2015

A research team led by Dr Martin Whiting from the Department of Biological Sciences recently discovered a beautifully coloured new species of flat lizard, which they have named Platysaurus attenboroughi, after Sir David Attenborough.

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.