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Does age matter in song bird vocal interactions? Results from interactive playback experiments

Frontiers in Zoology
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1186/1742-9994-8-29
  • Research
  • Communication


The song of oscines provides an extensively studied model of age-dependent behaviour changes. Male and female receivers might use song characteristics to obtain information about the age of a signaller, which is often related to its quality. Whereas most of the age-dependent song changes have been studied in solo singing, the role of age in vocal interactions is less well understood. We addressed this issue in a playback study with common nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos). Previous studies showed that male nightingales had smaller repertoires in their first year than older males and males adjusted their repertoire towards the most common songs in the breeding population. We now compared vocal interaction patterns in a playback study in 12 one year old and 12 older nightingales (cross-sectional approach). Five of these males were tested both in their first and second breeding season (longitudinal approach). Song duration and latency to respond did not differ between males of different ages in either approach. In the cross-sectional approach, one year old nightingales matched song types twice as often as did older birds. Similarly, in the longitudinal approach all except one bird reduced the number of song type matches in their second season. Individuals tended to overlap songs at higher rates in their second breeding season than in their first. The higher levels of song type matches in the first year and song overlapping by birds in their second year suggest that these are communicative strategies to establish relationships with competing males and/or choosy females.

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