Discrimination of individual vocalizations by black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla)
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The auditory perceptual abilities of male black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) were examined using an operant go/no-go discrimination among 16 individual vocalizations recorded at 5 m. The birds learned to discriminate about equally well among eight male chickadee fee-bee songs and eight female zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) distance calls. These results do not indicate that chickadees have a species-specific advantage in individual recognition for conspecific over heterospecific vocalizations. We then transferred the chickadees to a discrimination of the same songs and calls rerecorded at a moderate distance. These results showed accurate transfer of discrimination from 16 vocalizations recorded at 5 m to novel versions of the same 16 songs and calls rerecorded at 25 m. That is, chickadees recognized individual songs and calls despite degradation produced by rerecording at 25 m. Identifying individual vocalizations despite their transformation by distance cues is here described as a biologically important example of perceptual constancy.