Bird song – it's not just a male gig

March 5, 2014 by Dr Andi Horvath
Female fairy-wren. Credit: Lindley McKay

Since Darwin's observations we thought that bird songs were a male trait for courting with females who were drawn to the most seductive male song.

An international study led by the University of Maryland including researchers from the University of Melbourne has upturned this notion of and found that female song has also been an important part of the evolution of songbirds.

An author of this study, Dr Michelle Hall from the University's Department of Zoology said, "Female song was overlooked for a long time. In places like the tropics both male and female sing all year round and female is common in Australia."

The study utilised existing global genetic data and aligned it with new data on whether the female song was a feature of various songbird varieties.

"We created an evolutionary tree of songbird species from all over the world including Australasian linages, which we knew would be closer to the 'ancestral' songbirds of the past."

"Not only did 71% of the songbirds we surveyed had female song, but there is a 92% probability that the common ancestor of modern songbirds had female song. So song is not just a male gig, its more complex than originally thought."

Researcher say the long held view of bird song as a male domain, stems back to Darwin's observations in the Northern hemisphere, where female song is less common. This new research, taking advantage of genetics and global data not available to Darwin, suggests the difference between the sexes that he observed is more likely because females in many Northern hemisphere species stopped singing as an evolutionary process, rather than because song only evolved in males."

The results entitled "Female song is widespread and ancestral in " was published in Nature Communications today, in an international collaboration between the University of Maryland in the US, University of Melbourne in Australia, Leiden University in the Netherlands and The Australian National University.

Explore further: Warbling wrens don't just tweet, they sing duets

More information: "Female song is widespread and ancestral in songbirds. Karan J. Odom," Michelle L. Hall, Katharina Riebel, Kevin E. Omland, Naomi E. Langmore. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3379 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4379. Received 13 August 2013 Accepted 04 February 2014 Published 04 March 2014

Related Stories

Warbling wrens don't just tweet, they sing duets

November 3, 2011

(AP) -- They may not be Sonny and Cher, but certain South American birds sing duets, taking turns as the tune goes along. "Calling it a love song is probably too strong a word," says researcher Eric S. Fortune of Johns Hopkins ...

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 ...

Testosterone regulates solo song of tropical birds

October 31, 2012

(Phys.org)—In male songbirds of the temperate zone, the concentration of sex hormones is rising in spring, which leads to an increase in song activity during the breeding season. In the tropics, there has been little evidence ...

Female mice prefer unfamiliar male songs

February 5, 2014

Female mice prefer songs of mice that are different from their parents when selecting a mate, according to a study published February 5, 2014 in PLOS ONE by Akari Asaba from the Azabu University, Japan, and colleagues. Furthermore, ...

Recommended for you

Secrets of a heat-loving microbe unlocked

September 4, 2015

Scientists studying how a heat-loving microbe transfers its DNA from one generation to the next say it could further our understanding of an extraordinary superbug.

Plants also suffer from stress

September 4, 2015

High salt in soil dramatically stresses plant biology and reduces the growth and yield of crops. Now researchers have found specific proteins that allow plants to grow better under salt stress, and may help breed future generations ...

Ancient walnut forests linked to languages, trade routes

September 4, 2015

If Persian walnut trees could talk, they might tell of the numerous traders who moved along the Silk Roads' thousands of miles over thousands of years, carrying among their valuable merchandise the seeds that would turn into ...

Huddling rats behave as a 'super-organism'

September 3, 2015

Rodents huddle together when it is cold, they separate when it is warm, and at moderate temperatures they cycle between the warm center and the cold edges of the group. In a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology, ...

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.