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Feature Weighting in Species Song Recognition By the Field Sparrow (Spizella Pusilla)

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Computer-modified songs were presented to wild territorial male field sparows to assess the relative importance of different acoustic features in species-song recognition. The features tested exhibited differing degrees of relative variability within field sparrow song. The experiments demonstrate that field sparrows arc sensitive to changes in song frequency, number and order of phrases, trill-note duration, note 'shape', and internote interval. Field sparrows appear to be 'tuned' to the normal range of varition in song features. Responses decreased significantly when features in the experimental songs were changed by two to three standard deviations relative to a control song. These results contrast with previous conclusions that birds only use 'invariant' features in species-song recognition. However, manipulations of invariant features, frequency and number of phrases, interfered with recognition more than did an equally-noticeable change to a variable feature, inter-note interval. The number of phrases in a song and the duration of trill notes appear to be equally important recognition cues. Thus, field sparrows integrate information from at least five different features in species song recognition, but give more weight to information from an invariant feature, song frequency, than they do to information from variable features.

Affiliations: 1: The Rockefeller University, Field Research Center, Box 38B, RR 2, Millbrook, NY 12545, U.S.A.

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