Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 423–428 | Cite as

Developmental stress affects the attractiveness of male song and female choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)

  • K. A. SpencerEmail author
  • J. H. Wimpenny
  • K. L. Buchanan
  • P. G. Lovell
  • A. R. Goldsmith
  • C. K. Catchpole
Original Article


Developmental stress has recently been shown to have adverse effects upon adult male song structure in birds, which may well act as an honest signal of male quality to discriminating females. However, it still remains to be shown if females can discriminate between the songs of stressed and non-stressed males. Here we use a novel experimental design using an active choice paradigm to investigate preferences in captive female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Nine females were exposed to ten pairs of songs by previously stressed and non-stressed birds that had learned their song from the same tutor. Song pairs differed significantly in terms of song complexity, with songs of stressed males exhibiting lower numbers of syllables and fewer different syllables in a phrase. Song rate and peak frequency did not differ between stressed and non-stressed males. Females showed a significant preference for non-stressed songs in terms of directed perching activity and time spent on perches. Our results therefore indicate that developmental stress affects not only the structure of male song, but that such structural differences are biologically relevant to female mate choice decisions.


Bird song Corticosterone Developmental stress Mate choice Sexual selection 



Funding was obtained from the BBSRC (research grant code 7/S14062) and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. We thank Sadie Iles-Ryan and Diane Flower for animal husbandry, and Roger Francis for assistance with licensing. All work was conducted under Home Office License no. PPL 30/1777, and therefore conforms to the current laws on animal use in the UK


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. A. Spencer
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. H. Wimpenny
    • 1
  • K. L. Buchanan
    • 2
  • P. G. Lovell
    • 3
  • A. R. Goldsmith
    • 1
  • C. K. Catchpole
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.Cardiff School of BiosciencesCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  3. 3.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  4. 4.School of Biological Sciences, Royal HollowayUniversity of LondonSurreyUK

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