A role of her own: female cowbirds, Molothrus ater, influence the development and outcome of song learning

Victoria Anne Smith, Andrew P King, Meredith J West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Previous work has:shown that captive female cowbirds, Molothrus ater, can influence the outcome of male song development by affecting retention or deletion of song elements and by stimulating improvization. Here we looked far evidence of female influence during the process of learning, as males progress from subsong to plastic song to stereotyped song. In a longitudinal study, we measured the rate and timing of vocal development in captive, juvenile male brown-headed cowbirds, M. a. artemisiae. Half the young males were housed with female cowbirds from their own population (South Dakota: SD) and half with female cowbirds from a M. a. ater population (Indiana: IN). Both populations of females prefer local songs and differ in the time of breeding, with SD females breeding 2 weeks later than IN females. The results showed significant effects of female presence on the age at which males advanced through stages of vocal development: the SD males with SD females, as opposed to SD males with IN females, developed stereotyped song earlier, reduced motor practise earlier, and produced more effective playback songs. Longitudinal observations of social interactions showed that the two groups of females reliably differed in social responses to males. Degree of social proximity of females to males in the winter predicted song maturity, rate of rehearsal and song potency. Thus, females can stimulate the progression of song learning, as well as prune song content. (C) 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-609
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Volume60
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2000

Keywords

  • BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS
  • VOCAL DEVELOPMENT
  • SOCIAL MALLEABILITY
  • BIRD SONG
  • POPULATIONS
  • POTENCY
  • MALES
  • EXPERIENCE
  • PLASTICITY
  • ONTOGENY

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