A duetting perspective on avian song learning

Karla D. Rivera-Cáceres, Christopher N. Templeton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Avian song learning has a rich history of study and has become the preeminent system for understanding the ontogeny of vocal communication in animals. Song learning in birds has many parallels with human language learning, ranging from the neural mechanisms involved to the importance of social factors in shaping signal acquisition. While much has been learned about the process of song learning, virtually all of the research done to date has focused on temperate species, where often only one sex (the male) sings. Duetting species, in which both males and females learn to sing and learn to combine their songs into temporally coordinated joint displays, could provide many insights into the processes by which vocal learning takes place. Here we highlight three key features of song learning—neuroendocrine control mechanisms, timing and life history stages of song acquisition, and the role of social factors in song selection and use—that have been elucidated from species where only males sing, and compare these with duetting species. We summarize what is known about song learning in duetting species and then provide several suggestions for fruitful directions for future research. We suggest that focusing research efforts on duetting species could significantly advance our understanding of vocal learning in birds and further cement the importance of avian species as models for understanding human conversations and the processes of vocal learning more broadly.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioural Processes
VolumeIn press
Early online date25 Dec 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Dec 2017


  • Auditory-forebrain pathway
  • Avian duets
  • Conversation
  • Duetting
  • Duet learning
  • Language
  • Song learning
  • Vocal interactions


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