Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 199, Issue 1, pp 57–69 | Cite as

The acoustic effect of vocal tract adjustments in zebra finches

  • Tobias Riede
  • Nadja Schilling
  • Franz Goller
Original Paper


Vocal production in songbirds requires the control of the respiratory system, the syrinx as sound source and the vocal tract as acoustic filter. Vocal tract movements consist of beak, tongue and hyoid movements, which change the volume of the oropharyngeal–esophageal cavity (OEC), glottal movements and tracheal length changes. The respective contributions of each movement to filter properties are not completely understood, but the effects of this filtering are thought to be very important for acoustic communication in birds. One of the most striking movements of the upper vocal tract during vocal behavior in songbirds involves the OEC. This study measured the acoustic effect of OEC adjustments in zebra finches by comparing resonance acoustics between an utterance with OEC expansion (calls) and a similar utterance without OEC expansion (respiratory sounds induced by a bilateral syringeal denervation). X-ray cineradiography confirmed the presence of an OEC motor pattern during song and call production, and a custom-built Hall-effect collar system confirmed that OEC expansion movements were not present during respiratory sounds. The spectral emphasis during zebra finch call production ranging between 2.5 and 5 kHz was not present during respiratory sounds, indicating strongly that it can be attributed to the OEC expansion.


Vocal production Articulation Hyoid skeleton Formants Source-filter theory 



This study was funded by National Institutes of Health Grants DC04390 and DC06876. For their help with the X-ray recordings, we thank R. Petersohn and R. Salzer. Joe Leaman helped with the image analysis. Thanks to Neville Fletcher for his permission to use the model. Experiments were approved and conducted in accordance with the Animal Welfare Regulations of the state of Thuringa, Germany (Reg. No. 02-021/07) and the IACUC of the University of Utah.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.National Center for Voice and SpeechUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary BiologyFriedrich-Schiller-UniversityJenaGermany
  4. 4.Small Animal ClinicUniversity of Veterinary MedicineHannoverGermany

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