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Development, variation, and use of songs by chipping sparrows

Wan-Chun Liu, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Among oscine songbird species, the chipping sparrow, Spizella passerina, has perhaps one of the simplest song structures. Each male sparrow has one single song type with one type of syllable repeated many times. To acquire the simple song, juvenile males learn from a neighboring tutor either during the hatching fall or the first spring, perhaps depending on their hatching date. In nature, a male may use either an instructive or a selective mechanism to precisely imitate a song from a close neighbor. Learning song from only one neighbor, a limited sensitive phase, frequent territory shifting or dispersal, and the continuous geographic distribution of chipping sparrows may lead to highly diverse song types within each population and the lack of song differentiation among populations. ^ Male sparrows are able to flexibly change their simple songs at different times of day and under different social circumstances. Singing at dawn and during the daytime are different in acoustic structure, behavioral contexts, social situations, developmental patterns, and, putatively, in function. Territorial males also respond differently to the playback of dawn or daytime song. Removal experiments further suggest that the dawn chorus is associated with interactions among neighbors, whereas daytime song may function in long distance territory advertisement, particularly for female attraction. ^ Further examination of the dawn chorus reveals that male sparrows can use their dawn songs to signal dominance relationships among close neighbors. The dominant male appears to inhibit the singing of his subordinate neighbor. In addition, frequent alternating or overlapping of songs at dawn may provide specific information, such as motivational or social status, for interactions among close neighbors. ^

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Recommended Citation

Liu, Wan-Chun, "Development, variation, and use of songs by chipping sparrows" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3012159.