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Black-capped chickadee dawn choruses are interactive communication networks

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The dawn chorus of songbirds provides an ideal opportunity to study communication networks because multiple singers are within signalling range of each other, permitting eavesdropping by both males and females. Using an Acoustic Location System, we examined the dawn chorus singing behaviour of male black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) in 15 neighbourhoods to determine whether singing behaviour is consistent with the communication network model. We calculated levels of frequency matching for 19 focal males and all of their neighbours. The observed level of frequency matching was greater than expected by chance. All males were involved in multi-way matching at dawn and often matched two or three neighbours simultaneously. The identity of individuals involved in three-way matches was related to both previous winter-flock membership and the relative dominance rank of the interacting males. We show that male black-capped chickadee dawn choruses are interactive communication networks where males are involved in high levels of matching with neighbours, and they match multiple individuals both simultaneously and sequentially. Additionally, the existence of multi-way matching and the identities of individuals involved suggest that individual males may eavesdrop at dawn. This is the first study to quantify network communication during the dawn chorus in multiple neighbourhoods.

Affiliations: 1: Biology Department, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6, Department of Biology, Algoma University, Sault Sainte Marie, ON, Canada P6A 2G4;, Email:; 2: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, Windsor ON, Canada N9B 3P4, Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6; 3: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, Windsor ON, Canada N9B 3P4; 4: Biology Department, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6


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