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The Response of Swamp Sparrows To Acoustically Distinct Song Types

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Male and femal swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) were tested for differential reaction to four acoustically distinct swamp sparrow song types. We tested males by playing bouts of single song types from speakers placed on male territories. Males gave the same kinds of aggressive responses to each of the four song types, and there were no quantitative differences in the strengths of the responses to the different types. In the experiments with females, we played songs to captive female swamp sparrows previously treated with estradiol, and measured response in terms of copulation solicitation display. Females displayed in response to all four song types, and again there were no quantitative differences in the strength of response to the different types. We conclude that different swamp sparrow song types do not convey different messages to either male or female listeners. Although the identity of the particular song type presented was unimportant, the number of types presented was important, at least to females. Females responded more strongly overall to bouts of four song types than to bouts of single song types. This result occurred because females habituated to the repeated presentation of a single song type, and showed a recovery in response when song types were switched. We conclude that the ability to sing multiple song types may aid males in stimulating females to come into reproductive condition and then copulate.

Affiliations: 1: Rockefeller University Field Research Center, Millbrook, N. Y., U.S.A


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