A cross-sectional field study of fall song in Northern Mockingbirds Mimus polyglottos

Abstract

Studies of the acoustic structure of song in young birds have proven valuable at helping us understand song development, but nearly all existing studies have been performed on non-mimicking songbirds. We conducted a cross-sectional field study of song development in a prominent vocal mimic, the northern mockingbird, by comparing the fall songs of hatch-year vs. after-hatch-year birds. Although sample sizes of hatch-year birds were small, the data suggest a developmental trajectory in which both song stereotypy and the frequency of vocal mimicry increase with age. Thus, the acoustic structure of fall song may provide a reliable indicator of a bird’s age and performance.

Zusammenfassung

Eine Querschnitts-Feldstudie zum Herbstgesang der Gartenspottdrossel ( Mimus polyglottos )

Untersuchungen der akustischen Struktur des Gesangs junger Vögel haben sich als wertvoll erwiesen, um die Entwicklung des Gesangs zu verstehen, aber so gut wie alle diese Untersuchungen wurden bislang an nicht-imitierenden Vögeln durchgeführt. Unsere Querschnitts-Feldstudie machten wir an einem wohlbekannten Nachahmer, der Gartenspottdrossel, und verglichen den Herbstgesang von im gleichen Jahr geborenen Tieren mit dem von Tieren des Vorjahres. Obwohl die Stichprobengröße der Jungvögel vom gleichen Jahr nur klein war, sprechen die Daten für eine Entwicklung, innerhalb derer sowohl die Gesangsstereotopien als auch die Häufigkeit der Nachahmungen mit dem Alter zunehmen. Deshalb könnte die akustische Struktur des Herbstgesangs als zuverlässiger Indikator für das Alter und die Gesangsleistung eines Vogels dienen.

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Acknowledgements

We appreciate the cooperation of the landscaping staff at Elon University, plus the coaching and feedback of Wesley Webb, Jen Hamel, Eric Bauer, Eryn Bernardy, Mat Pawley, and Alfred Simkin. All research complied with the current laws of the United States of America.

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Both authors contributed to the study conception and design, data collection, and analysis. DEG wrote the manuscript, with feedback from ACT.

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Correspondence to David E. Gammon.

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This research was approved by Elon University’s IACUC Protocol 2017–001.

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Communicated by T. S. Osiejuk.

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Gammon, D.E., Tovsky, A.C. A cross-sectional field study of fall song in Northern Mockingbirds Mimus polyglottos. J Ornithol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-020-01852-y

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Keywords

  • Mimus polyglottos
  • Northern mockingbird
  • Ontogeny
  • Song consistency
  • Song learning
  • Vocal mimicry