Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 11, pp 1503–1509

Soft song is a reliable signal of aggressive intent in song sparrows

  • Christopher N. Templeton
  • Çağlar Akçay
  • S. Elizabeth Campbell
  • Michael D. Beecher
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-012-1405-5

Cite this article as:
Templeton, C.N., Akçay, Ç., Campbell, S.E. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2012) 66: 1503. doi:10.1007/s00265-012-1405-5

Abstract

Animals frequently use signals to modulate aggressive interactions. Establishing that a signal is aggressive or threatening requires demonstrating that it is more commonly used in agonistic contexts, that it predicts subsequent aggressive behaviors by the sender, and that receivers respond differently to this signal. Like many birds, song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) produce a low-amplitude “soft song” vocalization that has been hypothesized to be an aggressive signal. Soft song meets the first two criteria, but previous research has failed to demonstrate that soft song provokes aggression or that receivers even perceive soft song differently from normal loud song. We used a playback experiment with taxidermic mount presentation to test whether territorial male song sparrows respond differently to loud and soft song playbacks. Subjects reacted more strongly to the soft song playback by approaching the mount more closely, increasing wing wave displays, and increasing the proportion of their own songs that were soft songs, with further trends toward increasing the number of flights and attacks. These results confirm that soft song is a conventional signal of aggression in song sparrows and that increased receiver retaliation maintains its reliability.

Keywords

AggressionBird songHonest signalingSong sparrowTerritoriality

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher N. Templeton
    • 1
    • 3
  • Çağlar Akçay
    • 2
    • 4
  • S. Elizabeth Campbell
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michael D. Beecher
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK
  4. 4.Cornell Lab of OrnithologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA