Ultrasonic singing by the blue-throated hummingbird: a comparison between production and perception
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Blue-throated hummingbirds produce elaborate songs extending into the ultrasonic frequency range, up to 30 kHz. Ultrasonic song elements include harmonics and extensions of audible notes, non-harmonic components of audible syllables, and sounds produced at frequencies above 20 kHz without corresponding hearing range sound. To determine whether ultrasonic song elements function in intraspecific communication, we tested the hearing range of male and female blue-throated hummingbirds. We measured auditory thresholds for tone pips ranging from 1 kHz to 50 kHz using auditory brainstem responses. Neither male nor female blue-throated hummingbirds appear to be able to hear above 7 kHz. No auditory brainstem responses could be detected between 8 and 50 kHz at 90 dB. This high-frequency cutoff is well within the range reported for other species of birds. These results suggest that high-frequency song elements are not used in intraspecific communication. We propose that the restricted hummingbird hearing range may exemplify a phylogenetic constraint.