Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why The Swamp Sparrow Is Hitting The High Notes

Date:
January 12, 2009
Source:
University of Miami
Summary:
Scientists have long thought that a bird's vocal performance is a static characteristic-set once a song is learned. Yet, biologists now explain that songbirds can modulate vocal performance, when it is important to do so.

This small songbird with gray face and reddish wings defends his territory and attracts a mate usually by singing from a raised perch in a brushy swamp.
Credit: Robert Lachlan

Birdsongs are used extensively as models for animal signaling and human speech, offering a glimpse of how our own communicating abilities developed. A new study by Adrienne DuBois, a graduate student at the University of Miami (UM) College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology, shows that the Swamp Sparrow has the ability to emit songs that are physically difficult to produce during hostile situations, implying that songbirds use sophisticated vocal performances as signals in aggressive communication.

The findings contribute to the current understanding of how animals use signals to communicate.

DuBois investigated whether vocal performance (a measure of how well a male sings songs that are difficult to produce) is used as a signal in aggressive interactions between male songbirds. The study reveals that, when challenged, the male Swamp Sparrow escalates its vocal performance by increasing the frequency range and the speed of its song.

"Vocal performance was thought to be a static characteristic—set once a song is learned," DuBois said. "Our results are the first to show that songbirds can modulate vocal performance, when it is important to do so."

Theoretically, only males with better genes, or that are in better condition, should be able to produce high performance songs. However, the study found that males are able to increase their vocal performance when challenged by a competitor, explained Bill Searcy, Maytag professor of Ornithology in the UM College of Arts and Science and co-author of the study.

"Even in the case of signals whose properties are physically constrained to reflect an individual's abilities, animals exaggerate their signals as much as they can, during critical situations," Searcy said.

The slow trills of the Swamp Sparrows can be heard during spring and summer across the Eastern and Central North American wetlands. This small songbird with a grey face and reddish wings defends his territory and attracts a mate usually by singing from a raised perch in a brushy swamp.

Results from research on birdsong can be extrapolated to other areas of study, including the evolution of communication, and animal cognition, explained Steve Nowicki, Duke University professor, dean of Undergraduate Education and co-author of the study.

"By understanding what animals do in their natural environment, we get a glimpse of what their brains can do," said Nowicki, "In a broader sense, we can make assumptions about the way the animal brain develops to support a complex communication system."

Songs of swamp sparrows.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Miami. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. DuBois et al. Swamp sparrows modulate vocal performance in an aggressive context. Biology Letters, 2009; 1 (-1): -1 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0626

Cite This Page:

University of Miami. "Why The Swamp Sparrow Is Hitting The High Notes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 January 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090109125636.htm>.
University of Miami. (2009, January 12). Why The Swamp Sparrow Is Hitting The High Notes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090109125636.htm
University of Miami. "Why The Swamp Sparrow Is Hitting The High Notes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090109125636.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins