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Species-Specificity and Mimicry in Bird Song: Are They Paradoxes? a Reevaluation of Song Mimicry in the European Starling

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The possible structural relation between species-specificity and interspecific mimicry has been investigated in European starling's song. Mimicries have been recorded in several populations in Europe and in New Zealand. Previous studies of starling's song have shown that two basic categories, one composed of simple and loud songs (whistles), the other of long quiet and complex songs (warbles) can be recognized in the repertoires of all male starlings. Mimicries can be found in both contexts: in a loud and isolated way or included in warbling sequences. In Europe, about a third of the whistles are mimicries in an individual repertoire. Within a colony, the types of mimicries are individual-specific, but the same loud mimicries can be heard in different colonies. The loud mimicries are characterized by a high homogeneity amongst populations: half of those recorded in different countries in Europe correspond to the same 4 models (blackbird, little owl, buzzard, oriole). This does not reflect the abundance of the species in the environment and suggests a very strong selectivity. Results are totally different for the warbling in which most mimicries are unique to one starling and mainly reflect the sound environment. Little overlap is found between warbled and loud mimicries. Both in Europe and New Zealand, loud mimicries tend to have a simple whistled structure whereas the warbled ones most often include trills and several varied notes. Structural relations could be found between the species-specific whistled themes and the types of loud mimicries. Similarly quiet mimicries are included in the characteristic organization of warbling. Therefore it is suggested that the starling possesses two types of "templates" in its species-specific song which are reflected in its mimicries with quite different degrees of selectivity. These two categories of mimicries may have evolved for functional reasons that are linked to the corresponding functions of the species-specific songs themselves.

Affiliations: 1: 'Laboratoire d'Ethologie, URA CNRS 373, Université de Rennes I, Avenue du Général Leclerc, 35042 Rennes Cedex, France; 2: Department of Zoology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

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