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The structure, context and functions of group singing in black-breasted wood-quail (Odontophorus leucolaemus)

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Black-breasted wood-quail (Odontophorus leucolaemus) are vocal, group living birds (covey size ranges from 2 to 15 individuals) that inhabit the dense understory of highland forest in Costa Rica. Mated pairs produce coordinated duets and groups produce coordinated choruses that are audible to humans from a distance of at least 200 m. Duets and choruses are antiphonal; they consist of two syllables that are comprised of two elements each, which are repeated over and over in an alternating fashion. Neighbouring coveys are most often heard calling back and forth just after dawn and all group members participate in singing and territory defence. During territorial encounters, group singing is often accompanied by displays, chases, and even physical fights between members of opposing coveys. Black-breasted wood-quail produce at least five structurally distinct close-range calls that are associated with within-group communication and territorial encounters. Observations of the context of unprovoked duets and choruses, in addition to responses to simulated territorial intrusion using playback, indicate that these songs play an important role in territory advertisement and defence. Furthermore, black-breasted wood-quail may adjust their response to playback as a function of relative group size, suggesting that choruses could function in relative numerical assessment of group size.


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