Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 260–269 | Cite as

Heterospecific song matching in two closely related songbirds (Parus major and P. caeruleus): great tits match blue tits but not vice versa

  • Leen GorissenEmail author
  • Marjan Gorissen
  • Marcel Eens
Original Article


To date, song research has focused primarily on the interactions of conspecifics. However, frequent interactions of songbirds with heterospecifics may necessitate adequate communication outside the species boundary. In this study, we focus on heterospecific communication behaviour of two small sympatric congeneric passerines, great and blue tits (Parus major and Parus caeruleus), which breed in overlapping territories and compete for food and nesting cavities. By means of a first playback experiment, we show that (1) heterospecific matching (imitating songs of the other species) is a strategy frequently used by great tits but not by blue tits, (2) both blue tit trilled and untrilled song can be accurately matched by great tits and that (3) almost half of the great tits in our study population match at least one blue tit song across all studied breeding stages, indicating that this heterospecific matching behaviour is a common feature in this population. A second playback experiment showed that these great tit imitations of blue tit songs do not function in intraspecific communication between male great tits. Hence, these heterospecific imitations appear to be designed for interspecific communication with blue tits. These findings suggest a strong heterospecific influence on the vocal learning process, repertoire composition and repertoire use in great tits and provide a possible mechanism that can drive song convergence in songbirds.


Heterospecific matching Interspecies communication Vocal imitations 



We are grateful to R. Oblonsek for the help during fieldwork and the time consuming scoring of sonograms, P. Scheys for help during fieldwork and T. Snoeijs for statistical advice. L. Gorissen was funded by a Ph.D. grant of the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation through Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT Vlaanderen). All experiments performed comply with the current laws of the Belgian Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology Campus Drie Eiken,University of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium

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