Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 193, Issue 2, pp 201–215 | Cite as

Seasonal variation in avian auditory evoked responses to tones: a comparative analysis of Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and white-breasted nuthatches

  • Jeffrey R. Lucas
  • Todd M. Freeberg
  • Glenis R. Long
  • Ananthanarayan Krishnan
Original Paper


We tested for seasonal plasticity of the peripheral auditory system of three North American members of the Sylvioidea: Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis), tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor), and white-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis). We measured three classes of auditory evoked responses (AER) to tone stimuli: sustained receptor/neural responses to pure-tone condensation waveforms, the frequency-following response (FFR), and the earliest peak of the AER to stimulus onset (tone onset response). Seasonal changes were detected in all classes of AERs in chickadees and nuthatches. Seasonal changes in titmice were restricted to the tone onset response. Interestingly, changes detected in chickadees (and to a lesser extent in titmice) were generally in an opposite direction to changes seen in nuthatches, with chickadees exhibiting greater amplitude AER responses in the spring than in winter, and nuthatches exhibiting greater amplitude AER responses in winter than in spring. In addition, the seasonal differences in the sustained responses tended to be broad-band in the chickadees but restricted to a narrower frequency range in nuthatches. In contrast, seasonal differences in the onset response were over a broader frequency range in titmice than in chickadees and nuthatches. We discuss some possible mechanistic and functional explanations for these seasonal changes.


Auditory evoked response (AER) Frequency following response (FFR) Seasonality Bird hearing Vocal complexity 

List of abbreviations


Auditory evoked response


Cochlear microphonic


Frequency following response


Second harmonic of the frequency following response


Sustained response including both cochlear microphonic and frequency following response



Thanks to Ben Fanson, Kerry Fanson, Ken Henry and Mark Nolen for feedback on the manuscript. Ken Henry helped with system calibration. This work was approved 18 June, 1999 by the Purdue University Animal Care Committee under IACUC no. 99–003. Todd M. Freeberg wishes to acknowledge postdoctoral support by an NIH training grant to the Department of Audiology and Speech Sciences at Purdue University that made this research possible.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey R. Lucas
    • 1
  • Todd M. Freeberg
    • 3
  • Glenis R. Long
    • 4
  • Ananthanarayan Krishnan
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences, Lilly Hall of Life SciencePurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing SciencesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  4. 4.Speech and Hearing Sciences Program, Graduate CenterCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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