Affordable Access

Access to the full text

Seasonal variability in habitat structure may have shaped acoustic signals and repertoires in the black-capped and boreal chickadees

  • Apol, C. A.1
  • Sturdy, C. B.2
  • Proppe, D. S.1
  • 1 Calvin College, Biology Department, 3201 Burton St SE, Grand Rapids, MI, 49546, USA , Grand Rapids (United States)
  • 2 University of Alberta, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, P217 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2E9, Canada , Edmonton (Canada)
Published Article
Evolutionary Ecology
Springer International Publishing
Publication Date
Oct 14, 2017
DOI: 10.1007/s10682-017-9921-4
Springer Nature


Many songbird species have evolved multiple vocalizations, or repertoires, that function to communicate various biological signals. More diverse repertoires may have evolved in response to the effects of seasonal variation in habitat structure on signal transmission. Such changes in habitat necessarily occur for migrating species, but they also occur for resident species that occupy deciduous forests. The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) possesses a chick-a-dee call and a fee-bee song, but the closely related boreal chickadee (P. borealis) lacks a song. Consistent with the habitat variability hypothesis, the black-capped chickadee possesses a larger repertoire and primarily occupies deciduous forests, whereas the songless boreal chickadee occurs more often in coniferous forests. We explored the ecological basis of this hypothesis by recording audio playbacks of two species in two habitat types during two seasons. Specifically, we played both songs and calls of the black-capped chickadee and calls of the boreal chickadee in deciduous and coniferous habitats, prior to and after leaf-out. We measured attenuation and degradation in re-recorded vocalizations. For black-capped chickadees, the song was less degraded than the call in post-leaf, deciduous forests. The boreal chickadee call attenuated more quickly in all treatments, but maintained its acoustic structure better than both black-capped chickadee vocalizations in coniferous forests. Our results support the hypothesis that variable habitats provided a seasonal transmission benefit for both song and call in the black-capped chickadee, but that the transmission benefit of song is lost in the less variant coniferous forests, which may underlie the absence of a song in the boreal chickadee.

Report this publication


Seen <100 times