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Effects of Pair Bond and Presence of Conspecifics On Singing in Captive Zebra Finches

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Undirected Song is commonly performed in wild and captive zebra finches and is typically given by males partly isolated from other members of the flock or colony. It has no territorial function nor it is used during precoital courtship; its frequency varies strongly among individuals. However, its rate of performance is severely limited by the close proximity of conspecifics, and this study investigated what social factors are responsible for this constraint in first-generation offspring of wild-caught zebra finches. The close presence of females caused a greater reduction in singing than did that of males. Familiarity between companions and the singer was also a factor that reduced the rate of singing. The more familiar the singer became with a female the more often he would sing in her presence, whereas the opposite occurred with males - singing was more prevalent with strangers than with familiar companions. Pair formation reduced a singer's sensitivity to inhibitory factors associated with the close proximity of conspecifics. Simple visual and auditory contact with a conspecific was not sufficient to constrain Undirected Singing, but intense, close range interactions appear to be necessary. It is hypothesised that Undirected Singing is used to attract females for pair formation or extra-pair mating, but the close proximity of male companions and/or the mate hampers this. However, in a competitive mate choice experiment there was no significant correlation between the rate at which a male gave Undirected Song and order of the pair formation. This suggests that Undirected Singing may not be crucial in the ultimate choice of a mate, but it may still be a useful cue at the outset of pair formation.

Affiliations: 1: School of Zoology, La Trobe University, Bundoora, 3083, Australia


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