Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 190, Issue 8, pp 665–673 | Cite as

Ultrasonic singing by the blue-throated hummingbird: a comparison between production and perception

  • Carolyn L. PytteEmail author
  • Millicent S. Ficken
  • Andrew Moiseff
Original Paper


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.


Hearing Hummingbird Perception Song Ultrasound 



We thank the Southwestern Research Station for housing the hummingbirds. Elizabeth Sandlin provided the use of mist nets and training in hummingbird capture. All animal care and methods complied with the regulations of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees of the affiliated universities, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection—Wildlife Division, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the Principles of Animal Care of the National Institutes of Health. This research was funded by NSF SGER 0077980.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn L. Pytte
    • 1
    Email author
  • Millicent S. Ficken
    • 2
  • Andrew Moiseff
    • 3
  1. 1.Biology DepartmentWesleyan UniversityMiddletownUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and UWM Field StationSaukvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Physiology and NeurobiologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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