Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 1151–1159 | Cite as

Perception of warble song in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus): evidence for special processing

  • Hsiao-Wei Tu
  • Robert J. Dooling
Original Paper


The long, rambling warble song of male budgerigars is composed of a large number of acoustically complex elements uttered in streams lasting minutes a time and accompanied by various courtship behaviors. Warble song has no obvious sequential structure or patterned repetition of elements, raising questions as to which aspects of it are perceptually salient, whether budgerigars can detect changes in natural warble streams, and to what extent these capabilities are species-specific. Using operant conditioning and a psychophysical paradigm, we examined the sensitivity of budgerigars, canaries, and zebra finches to changes in long (>6 min) natural warble sequences of a male budgerigar. All three species could detect a single insertion of pure tones, zebra finch song syllables, budgerigar contact calls, or warble elements from another budgerigar’s warble. In each case, budgerigars were more sensitive to these changes than were canaries or finches. When warble elements from the ongoing warble stream were used as targets and inserted, out of order, into the natural warble stream so that the only cue available was the violation of the natural ordering of warble elements, only budgerigars performed above chance. When the experiment was repeated with all the ongoing warble stream elements presented in random order, the performance of budgerigars fell to chance. These results show species-specific advantages in budgerigars for detecting acoustic changes in natural warble sequences and indicate at least a limited sensitivity to sequential rules governing the structure of their species-specific warble songs.


Ordering Warble Sequence Perception Sensitivity 



We thank Marjorie Leek and Beth Brittan-Powell for comments on earlier drafts; Peter Marvit and Edward Smith for technical support. This work was supported by NIH/NIDCD R01-DC 000198 to RJD.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA

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