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Song Learning and Production in the White-Crowned Sparrow: Parallels With Sexual Imprinting

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

Although vocal learning is widespread among birds, sexual imprinting appears to occur in more avian orders. The four features which LORENZ (1935) considered essentials of sexual imprinting have parallels in the song learning literature: these are 1. an early sensitive phase, 2. irreversibility, 3. completion of learning long before manifestation, 4. supraindividuality. These principles are still sound under certain experimental conditions, but LORENZ'S ideas require modification in light of more recent data derived from experiments and field observations. The aspects of sexual imprinting stressed by IMMELMANN (1972) are also examined. These include: 1. sex differences, 2. sibling effects, 3. social aspects, 4. stimulus filtering. The 'consolidation' effect described by IMMELMANN et al. (1991) finds a parallel in bird song in the phenomenon of 'matched countersinging'. It is concluded that the large variations encountered in both imprinting and song studies are not artifacts of subtle differences in experimental conditions, but represent true variation inherent in natural populations, and this variation is subject to the forces of natural selection.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy, California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118-4599, USA


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