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The Role of Aggression in Song Tutor Choice in the Zebra Finch: Cause or Effect?

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Young male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) normally copy their song from one tutor when given a choice of two. Interaction is known to be a key feature of the learning process and this study examines the way in which one particular type of social behaviour, aggression, may affect tutor choice. Female raised zebra finches were given a choice of two song tutors, which had been pre-selected for differing levels of aggression, during the sensitive phase for song learning. A young bird was significantly more likely to learn from the tutor that was more aggressive to him, as found earlier by Clayton (1987). In addition, behavioural observations suggest that aggression towards the young bird was the cause rather than an effect of tutor choice. There was no significant relationship between the relative level of tutor aggression and the amount of his song copied. Changes in the level of aggression over the tutoring period are also discussed.

Affiliations: 1: School of Biological & Medical Sciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9TS, UK

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