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Temporal and Sequential Organisation of Song in the Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus Schoenobaenus)

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Temporal analysis has revealed that Sedge Warbler songs are unusually long, some extending over one minute in duration and containing over 300 syllables. They have a characteristic temporal pattern; starting slowly and building up to become faster, more complex and louder in the middle, before fading away towards the end. Song flights were not longer, but more complex in structure, containing twice as many syllable types as normal songs. Some individual differences were found, Bird I sang faster than the other two, and Bird 3 had longer songs which contained fewer syllable types. Sequence analysis revealed that the start section of the song consisted of long, complex patterns of repetition and alternation, usually involving only two syllable types. The middle section was characterised by a sudden switch, which introduced between 5 and 10 new syllable types in quick succession. The end section consisted of a similar pattern to the start, but the two syllable types were selected from the middle section. These were then used to form the start of the next song. Sequence analysis showed that overall syllable transitions were indeterminate, and this was confirmed by following in detail the many and complex relationships of selected syllable types. Even when songs containing the same syllable types were found, their transitions and detailed structure varied enormously. Considering the variable organisation described, the probability of a song type ever being exactly repeated seems remote. Sedge Warbler song is unusual in two respects; in its extreme elaboration and in functioning almost solely in sexual attraction of the female. It is suggested that these two factors are related, and that sexual selection may have played an important part in the evolution of one of the longest, most elaborate and variable of all bird songs.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, Bedford College, University of London, Regent's Park, London, England


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