Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 1, pp 145–161 | Cite as

A test of multiple hypotheses for the function of call sharing in female budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus

  • Christine R. DahlinEmail author
  • Anna M. Young
  • Breanne Cordier
  • Roger Mundry
  • Timothy F. Wright
Original Paper


In many social species group, members share acoustically similar calls. Functional hypotheses have been proposed for call sharing, but previous studies have been limited by an inability to distinguish among these hypotheses. We examined the function of vocal sharing in female budgerigars with a two-part experimental design that allowed us to distinguish between two functional hypotheses. The social association hypothesis proposes that shared calls help animals mediate affiliative and aggressive interactions, while the password hypothesis proposes that shared calls allow animals to distinguish group identity and exclude nonmembers. We also tested the labeling hypothesis, a mechanistic explanation which proposes that shared calls are used to address specific individuals within the sender–receiver relationship. We tested the social association hypothesis by creating four–member flocks of unfamiliar female budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) and then monitoring the birds’ calls, social behaviors, and stress levels via fecal glucocorticoid metabolites. We tested the password hypothesis by moving immigrants into established social groups. To test the labeling hypothesis, we conducted additional recording sessions in which individuals were paired with different group members. The social association hypothesis was supported by the development of multiple shared call types in each cage and a correlation between the number of shared call types and the number of aggressive interactions between pairs of birds. We also found support for calls serving as a labeling mechanism using discriminant function analysis with a permutation procedure. Our results did not support the password hypothesis, as there was no difference in stress or directed behaviors between immigrant and control birds.


Budgerigar Parrot Communication Label Melopsittacus undulatus Vocal label Vocal signature 



We thank Dr. Dennis Hallford and Chelsea Felker for conducting the FGM RIA. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Jim Ha who wrote the Palm Pilot program. We thank Anna Berglund and Josh Criswell for assistance with recording the budgerigars and fecal processing. We thank Alfredo Montoya and the staff of the New Mexico State University Animal Care Facility for maintaining our population of budgerigars and providing laboratory space. We also thank Shannon Pease and Daniel Acosta for assistance with genetic sexing. Additional thanks go to Chelsea Blake and Amy Dundorf for assistance with randomized call sorting. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and Dr. Henrik Brumm for insightful comments that improved the quality of the manuscript. Funding was provided to T.W. by NICHD grant SC1HD068128 and a New Mexico State University Arts and Sciences mini-grant.

Ethical Standards

Our experiments comply with the current laws of the USA and were approved by the New Mexico State University IACUC (protocol number 2010–001).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine R. Dahlin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anna M. Young
    • 2
  • Breanne Cordier
    • 3
  • Roger Mundry
    • 4
  • Timothy F. Wright
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Pittsburgh at JohnstownJohnstownUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology and Earth ScienceOtterbein UniversityWestervilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biology, MSC 3AFNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  4. 4.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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