Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cultural evolution changes bird song

Date:
January 29, 2013
Source:
University of Guelph
Summary:
Thanks to cultural evolution, male Savannah sparrows are changing their tune, partly to attract "the ladies." According to a study of more than 30 years of Savannah sparrows recordings, the birds are singing distinctly different songs today than their ancestors did 30 years ago -- changes passed along generation to generation, according to a new study.

Savannah sparrow.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Guelph

Thanks to cultural evolution, male Savannah sparrows are changing their tune, partly to attract "the ladies."

According to a study of more than 30 years of Savannah sparrows recordings, the birds are singing distinctly different songs today than their ancestors did 30 years ago -- changes passed along generation to generation, according to a new study by University of Guelph researchers.

Integrative biology professors Ryan Norris and Amy Newman, in collaboration with researchers at Bowdoin College and Williams College in the U.S., analyzed the songs of male Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichiensis) recorded over three decades, and found that the songs had changed distinctly from 1980 to 2011.

"The change is the result of cultural transmission of different song elements through many generations," said Norris.

Norris added that the change in tune resembles changes in word choice and language among humans.

"If you listen to how people used to talk in the 1890s and how we talk today, you would notice major differences, and this is the result of shifts in culture or the popularity of certain forms," he said. "The change in sparrow songs over time has occurred much the same way"

The sparrows, which live on Kent Island, N.B., in the Bay of Fundy, can generally sing only one song type that consists of several parts. Male sparrows learn that song early in their first year and continue to sing the same tune for the rest of their lives.

"Young male sparrows learn their songs from the birds around them," said Norris. "It may be their fathers, or it could be other older male birds that live nearby."

Each male sparrow has his own unique sound, added Newman.

"While the island's sparrows all sing a characteristic 'savannah sparrow song,' with the same verses and sound similar, there are distinct differences between each bird," she said. "Essentially, it is like karaoke versions of popular songs. It is the rise and fall in popular cover versions that has changed over time."

The research team found that, in general, each song has three primary elements. The first identifies the bird as a Savannah sparrow, the second identifies which individual is singing, and the third component is used by females to assess males.

Using sonograms recorded from singing males each breeding season, the researchers determined that, while the introductory notes had stayed generally consistent for the last 30 years, the sparrows had added a series of clicks to the middle of their songs. The birds had also changed the ending trill: once long and high-frequency, it is now shorter and low-frequency.

"We found that the ending trill of the song has become shorter, likely because female sparrows preferred this, because males with shorter trills had higher reproductive success," Norris said.

Kent Island has been home to the Bowdoin Scientific Station since it was donated by J. Sterling Rockefeller in 1932, and the birds have been recorded since the 1980s. Individual birds are also monitored throughout their lifetime.

"We know the identity and history of every single sparrow in the study population" said Norris, who has led the project with Newman since 2009. "To have 30 years of recordings is very rare, and it was definitely surprising to see such drastic changes."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Heather Williams, Iris I. Levin, D. Ryan Norris, Amy E.M. Newman, Nathaniel T. Wheelwright. Three decades of cultural evolution in Savannah sparrow songs. Animal Behaviour, 2013; 85 (1): 213 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.10.028

Cite This Page:

University of Guelph. "Cultural evolution changes bird song." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130129121937.htm>.
University of Guelph. (2013, January 29). Cultural evolution changes bird song. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130129121937.htm
University of Guelph. "Cultural evolution changes bird song." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130129121937.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

AFP (Aug. 1, 2014) The discovery of a bear cub in the Pyrenees mountains made headlines in April 2014. Despire several attempts to find the animal's mother, the cub remained alone. Now, the Pyrenees Conservation Foundation has constructed an enclosure. Duration: 00:31 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) Health officials are working to fast-track a vaccine — the West-African Ebola outbreak has killed more than 700. But why didn't we already have one? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) Previous studies have made the link between birth control and breast cancer, but the latest makes the link to high-estrogen oral contraceptives. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

AP (Aug. 1, 2014) A rare whale fossil has been pulled from a Southern California backyard. The 16- to 17-million-year-old baleen whale fossil is one of about 20 baleen whale fossils known to exist. (Aug. 1) Video provided by AP
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