Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 179–186 | Cite as

Individual differences and within-flock convergence in chickadee calls

  • Dorothy L. Mammen
  • Stephen Nowicki


A detailed sound analysis of the Chick-adee call of the black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus) was performed in order to determine a basis for individual recognition and for imitation within winter flocks. During the winter of 1978–1979 members of five free-living black-capped chickadee flocks were uniquely marked for individual identification, and their calls were recorded in the field. Nested analysis of variance of temporal call parameters measured from sonagrams and spectral parameters from frequency spectra showed that there were significant differences between individuals within flocks for every parameter measured. There were significant differences between flocks in the frequency ranges 800–2,200 Hz and 4,000–5,300 Hz, in the spectral parameters bandwidth and maximum frequency, and in the duration of the Dee syllable and total call duration.

Members of four of the five flocks were captured in December 1978 and held in aviaries segregated by original flock membership. In January 1979 the memberships of the three aviaries were rearranged to form experimental flocks. After one month, there were significant differences among the experimental flocks in the duration of the Dee syllable and total call duration. Convergence, as indicated by a significant decrease in variance among members (F-test), occurred in the experimental flock in Aviary 1 and was concentrated in the frequency ranges 1,300–1,800 and 6,200–6,900 Hz. The members of this experimental flock differed from each other in the number of 100 Hz frequency intervals within which each changed its own call.

The Chick-a-dee call contains sufficient information that it can potentially be used by black-capped chickadees for individual recognition. In addition, both field and aviary data suggest that flock members converge in some call characteristics. Possible explanations of the social significance of vocal convergence in chickadee flocks are discussed.


Spectral Parameter Social Significance Individual Identification Call Parameter Individual Recognition 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorothy L. Mammen
    • 1
  • Stephen Nowicki
    • 1
  1. 1.Neurobiology and Behavior, Langmuir LaboratoryCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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