Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birds that live with varying weather sing more versatile songs

Date:
August 3, 2012
Source:
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Summary:
A new study of North American songbirds reveals that birds that live with fluctuating weather are more flexible singers. Mixing it up helps birds ensure that their songs are heard no matter what the habitat.

Northern oriole. Researchers analyzed song recordings from more than 400 male birds spanning 44 species of North American songbirds -- a data set that included orioles, blackbirds, warblers, sparrows, cardinals, finches, chickadees and thrushes.
Credit: Richard L. Carlson / Fotolia

A new study of North American songbirds reveals that birds that live with fluctuating weather are more flexible singers.

Related Articles


Mixing it up helps birds ensure that their songs are heard no matter what the habitat, say researchers at Australian National University and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.

To test the idea, the researchers analyzed song recordings from more than 400 male birds spanning 44 species of North American songbirds -- a data set that included orioles, blackbirds, warblers, sparrows, cardinals, finches, chickadees and thrushes.

They used computer software to convert each sound recording -- a medley of whistles, warbles, cheeps, chirps, trills and twitters -- into a spectrogram, or sound graph. Like a musical score, the complex pattern of lines and streaks in a spectrogram enable scientists to see and visually analyze each snippet of sound.

For each bird in their data set, they measured song characteristics such as length, highest and lowest notes, number of notes, and the spacing between them.

When they combined this data with temperature and precipitation records and other information such as habitat and latitude, they found a surprising pattern -- males that experience more dramatic seasonal swings between wet and dry sing more variable songs.

"They may sing certain notes really low, or really high, or they may adjust the loudness or tempo," said co-author Clinton Francis of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.

The Pyrrhuloxia or desert cardinal from the American southwest and northern Mexico and Lawrence's goldfinch from California are two examples.

In addition to variation in weather across the seasons, the researchers also looked at geographic variation and found a similar pattern. Namely, species that experience more extreme differences in precipitation from one location to the next across their range sing more complex tunes. House finches and plumbeous vireos are two examples, Francis said.

Why might this be?

"Precipitation is closely related to how densely vegetated the habitat is," said co-author Iliana Medina of Australian National University. Changing vegetation means changing acoustic conditions.

"Sound transmits differently through different vegetation types," Francis explained. "Often when birds arrive at their breeding grounds in the spring, for example, there are hardly any leaves on the trees. Over the course of just a couple of weeks, the sound transmission changes drastically as the leaves come in."

"Birds that have more flexibility in their songs may be better able to cope with the different acoustic environments they experience throughout the year," Medina added.

A separate team reported similar links between environment and birdsong in mockingbirds in 2009, but this is the first study to show that the pattern holds up across dozens of species.

Interestingly, Francis and Medina found that species with striking color differences between males and females also sing more variable songs, which means that environmental variation isn't the only factor, the researchers say.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. I. Medina, C. D. Francis. Environmental variability and acoustic signals: a multi-level approach in songbirds. Biology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0522

Cite This Page:

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "Birds that live with varying weather sing more versatile songs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120803131930.htm>.
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). (2012, August 3). Birds that live with varying weather sing more versatile songs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120803131930.htm
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "Birds that live with varying weather sing more versatile songs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120803131930.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Baby Okapi Born at Houston Zoo

Raw: Baby Okapi Born at Houston Zoo

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) The Houston Zoo released video of a male baby okapi. Okapis, also known as the "forest giraffe", are native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. Video is mute from source. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mysterious Glow Worms Found in the Amazon

Mysterious Glow Worms Found in the Amazon

Buzz60 (Nov. 20, 2014) Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer teamed up with entomologist Aaron Pomerantz and others to investigate a predatory glow worm found in the Amazon. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) explains. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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