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Do songbirds attend to song categories when selecting breeding habitat? A case study with a wood warbler

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Breeding habitat selection strongly affects reproduction and individual fitness. Among birds, using social cues from conspecifics to select habitat is widespread, but how different types of conspecific social cues influence breeding habitat selection remains less understood. We conducted a playback experiment evaluating if the yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia), a species with two song categories linked to pairing status, uses categories differently when selecting breeding habitat. We hypothesized that yellow warblers use second-category singing mode, which is mostly sung by paired males, over first-category singing mode for habitat selection, as successfully paired males should indicate higher-quality habitat. We broadcast yellow warbler first-category singing mode, second-category singing mode, and silent controls at sites in Illinois. Yellow warblers were more abundant at sites treated with second-category singing mode compared other sites. Our results demonstrate that yellow warblers use social cues informing successful pairing over other types of social cues to select breeding habitat.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA

*Corresponding author’s e-mail address:

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