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Singing onstage: female and male common nightingales eavesdrop on song type matching

Abstract

In bird communication, listening individuals may obtain information on the quality and motivation of a male not only from solo-singing, but also from song interactions and listeners base their future decisions in territorial and mating contexts on such public information. Eavesdropping on male interactions may thus have a strong influence on sexual selection. In singing interactions, temporal coordination (e.g. overlapping vs. alternating) of two singers as well as structural interaction patterns (e.g. song type matching or repertoire matching) have been described, but the latter is far less studied. By conducting dual-speaker playback experiments with common nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos, we simulated an interaction where one singer was repeatedly song–type matching his counterpart. Playbacks were broadcast to male and female nightingales, and their approach behaviour and singing responses (in the case of male focals) were analysed. We found that both, males and females, spent more time with the matched bird, whereas males additionally sang more songs towards the matching bird. This can be taken as strong hint that eavesdropping occurs in nightingale communication and that listening to male vocal contests might be an important strategy for both sexes to adjust their behavioural output. With regard to the function of song matching, we assume that song-matching is not an aggressive signal per se in nightingales. We rather conclude that vocal leaders within an interaction, here the matched bird, may elicit stronger responses in conspecifics than vocal followers, here the matching bird.

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Acknowledgments

The permission to ring male birds in Treptower Park was granted by the Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Umweltschutz, Berlin, on behalf of the Vogelwarte Radolfzell; we thank Christina Sommer, Roger Mundry and Kim G. Mortega for bird ringing. Experiments with female birds in Golm were permitted by the Landesamt für Verbraucherschutz, Landwirtschaft und Flurneuordnung Brandenburg (23-2347-4-2009); ringing was granted by the Landesumweltamt Brandenburg on behalf of the Vogelwarte Hiddensee. We are greatly indebted to Julia Stremel and Ansgar Thode for assistance in the field and to Michael Weiss, Silke Voigt-Heucke and Sarah Kiefer for critical input and help throughout the study. CB was funded by Berlin Funding for Graduates (Elsa-Neumann-Stipendium des Landes Berlin).

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We have adhered to the Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research, and all experiments comply with the current laws of Germany.

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Correspondence to Conny Bartsch.

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Communicated by M. Leonard

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Bartsch, C., Wenchel, R., Kaiser, A. et al. Singing onstage: female and male common nightingales eavesdrop on song type matching. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 1163–1171 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1727-6

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Keywords

  • Communication network
  • Male interaction
  • Dual-speaker playback
  • Luscinia megarhynchos