, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 109-117

Responses of song sparrows to song-type matching via interactive playback

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Abstract

The aggressive and singing responses of ten territorial male song sparrows, Melospiza melodia, to sustained song-type matching via interactive playback were examined. This auditory stimulus, which involves both synchronous switching and song-type matching, was hypothesized to be a strong aggressive threat. Responses were compared to five other trial types in which the switching pattern and song-type similarity were independently varied. The six trial types were organized into a factorial design with three switching levels (no switching, synchronized switching, and rapid unsynchronized switching) and two matching levels (shared song-types and unshared song-types). The aggressive response of the birds, a composite index of the correlated behaviors of singing rate, perch change rate, and time spent close to the speaker, showed significant main effects of both the switching and the matching factors, with no interaction effect. The response was highest for the shared/ unsynchronized switching trial and lowest for the unshared/no switching trial. Since the synchronous switching trials produced aggressive responses intermediate between the no switching and rapid unsynchronized switching trials, our results corroborate earlier studies showing that switching rate, song-type diversity and song similarity are the key determinants of aggressive approach. However, the switching rate of the focal birds during playback was not correlated with the other response variables and showed a very different pattern from the aggressive response. Switching rate increased during unshared/synchronized trials and decreased during shared/ synchronized (i.e., song-type matching) trials. The tendency of the birds to refrain from switching when they were song-type matched by playback led to long bouts of matched-type countersinging. These results suggest that song-type matching locks two countersinging birds into a new level of interaction in which information other than aggressive motivation is exchanged.

Communicated by G.M. Klump