, Volume 165, Issue 1, pp 15-26

Airflow and pressure during canary song: direct evidence for mini-breaths

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Male canaries (Serinus canaria) produce songs of long duration compared to the normal respiratory cycle. Each phrase in a song contains repetitions of a particular song syllable, with repetition rates for different syllables ranging from 3 to 35 notes/s. We measured tracheal airflow and air sac pressure in order to investigate respiratory dynamics during song.

Song syllables (11–280 ms) are always accompanied by expiratory tracheal airflow. The silent intervals (15–90 ms) between successive syllables are accompanied by inspiration, except for a few phrases where airflow ceases instead of reversing. Thus, the mini-breath respiratory pattern is used most often by the five birds studied and pulsatile expiration is used only occasionally.

Songs and phrases accompanied by minibreaths were of longer duration than those accompanied by pulsatile expiration, presumably because the animal's finite vital capacity is not a limiting factor when the volume of air expired for one note is replaced by inspiration prior to the next. Pulsatile expiration was used for only a few syllable types from one bird that were produced at higher repetition rates than syllables accompanied by mini-breaths. We suggest that male canaries switch to pulsatile expiration only when the syllable repetition rate is too high (greater than about 30 Hz) for them to achieve mini-breaths.

Changes in syringeal configuration that may accompany song are discussed, based on the assumption that changes in the ratio of subsyringeal (air sac) pressure to tracheal flow rate reflect changes in syringeal resistance.