Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 415–430 | Cite as

A review of hypotheses for the functions of avian duetting

  • Michelle L. HallEmail author


Avian duets are striking for the remarkable precision with which duetting partners sometimes coordinate their songs. Duetting species are taxonomically diverse, and the form of their duets varies. The reasons some birds duet when most do not remains unclear despite numerous hypotheses for its function. I review work done so far on duetting, discuss evidence for and against hypotheses for its functions, and highlight approaches useful for future research. The four hypotheses that appear most promising are that individuals join their partners’ songs to form duets: (1) to avoid being usurped from a partnership, (2) to prevent their partner being usurped, (3) as a collaborative display in defence of some resource, or (4) to signal commitment to their partner. These hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, and duetting is likely to have multiple roles both within and among species. However, much basic research is still required. Characteristics of duets have rarely been quantified in detail, and information about variability among species in the precision of duetting is necessary, not only to test hypotheses about function, but also to define duetting more precisely. Quantifying the relative frequencies of alternative vocal strategies (for example, remaining silent when a partner sings versus joining in to form a duet) between species and in different contexts will help to determine why partners coordinate their songs to form duets. Furthermore, social systems and sex roles in duetting species are poorly understood, yet understanding these is critical to determining the functions of avian duetting.


Avian duetting Hypotheses 



Thanks to Rob Magrath, Naomi Langmore, Jack Bradbury, Sandra Vehrencamp, and Anya Illes for stimulating discussion of ideas and comments that improved the manuscript. Peter Slater, Lorraine Marshall-Ball, Nathalie Seddon and an anonymous reviewer also made helpful comments on the manuscript. Thanks also to the participants of the Duetting Workshop at the International Society of Behavioral Ecology (ISBE) 2002 meeting in Montreal for discussion of current research and ideas. Particular thanks to David Logue, Nigel Mann, Herman Mays, Amy Rogers, Mike Sawyer and Tim Wright who shared ideas, and in some cases unpublished data, with me. I wrote this review as a Visiting Fellow at the School of Botany and Zoology at the Australian National University in Canberra.


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© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Botany and ZoologyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Bioacoustics Cornell Laboratory of OrnithologyIthacaUSA

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