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Low-amplitude songs produced by male dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) differ when sung during intra- and inter-sexual interactions

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The function and relative importance of low-amplitude (quiet) acoustic signals remains a poorly understood aspect of animal communication. Research in songbirds has predominantly focused on the role of low-amplitude songs as reliable predictors of attack and signals of aggressive intent. However, many species of songbirds produce low-amplitude song in the presence of both male and female conspecifics, suggesting a broader range of functions beyond aggressive behavior. Male dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) produce two distinct types of low-amplitude song: (1) soft long-range song (LRS), which is a lower amplitude version of junco LRS, and (2) short-range song (SRS), which is substantially more complex and structurally distinct from LRS. SRS is also sung at two distinct tempos (slow and fast) and has been observed in both male- and female-directed contexts. In this study, we presented free-living male juncos with a caged male or female conspecific accompanied by playback of LRS, a female precopulatory trill, or slow SRS and quantified the songs elicited by each social condition. Males produced slow SRS only in response to a female conspecific paired with a precopulatory trill or slow SRS, never to a male, even when males were paired with slow SRS. Together these observations indicate that slow SRS is a female-directed song. In contrast, males produced both LRS and soft LRS in the presence of conspecifics of both sexes, which suggests that LRS may serve a similar function with respect to male and female receivers regardless of amplitude. These results highlight the importance of investigating the production of low-amplitude songs in both intra- and inter-sexual contexts and provide further evidence that in juncos, slow SRS functions in courtship.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology and the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, 1001 E. Third Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA


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