, 98:977 | Cite as

Individual differences and repeatability in vocal production: stress-induced calling exposes a songbird's personality

Short Communication


Recent research in songbirds has demonstrated that male singing behavior varies systematically with personality traits such as exploration and risk taking. Here we examine whether the production of bird calls, in addition to bird songs, is repeatable and related to exploratory behavior, using the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) as a model. We assessed the exploratory behavior of individual birds in a novel environment task. We then recorded the vocalizations and accompanying motor behavior of both male and female chickadees, over the course of several days, in two different contexts: a control condition with no playback and a stressful condition where chick-a-dee mobbing calls were played to individual birds. We found that several vocalizations and behaviors were repeatable within both a control and a stressful context, and across contexts. While there was no relationship between vocal output and exploratory behavior in the control context, production of alarm and chick-a-dee calls in the stressful condition was positively associated with exploratory behavior. These findings are important because they show that bird calls, in addition to bird song, are an aspect of personality, in that calls are consistent both within and across contexts, and covary with other personality measures (exploration).


Alarm call Animal personality Black-capped chickadee Exploratory behavior Repeatability Vocalization 



All studies were conducted in accordance with the Canadian Council on Animal Care Guidelines and policies approved by the University of Alberta Biological Sciences Animal Care and Use Committee for Biosciences for the University of Alberta. Chickadees were captured under an Environment Canada Canadian Wildlife Service Scientific permit, Alberta Fish and Wildlife Capture and Research permits, and City of Edmonton Parks Permit.

We thank Marc T. Avey for providing mobbing calls, Hans Slabbekoorn for the comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, Jillian Avis for entering the data, and Isaac Lank for outstanding and timely fabrication and technical assistance. This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant, an Alberta Ingenuity Fund (AIF) New Faculty Grant, a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Infrastructure Operating Fund, a CFI New Opportunities Grant along with start-up funding and CFI partner funding from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada to CBS. LMG is supported by an Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship at the University of Alberta.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Centre for NeuroscienceUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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