Developmental stress affects the attractiveness of male song and female choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)

K A Spencer, J H Wimpenny, K L Buchanan, Paul George Lovell, A R Goldsmith, C K Catchpole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


Developmental stress has recently been shown to have adverse effects upon adult male song structure in birds, which may well act as an honest signal of male quality to discriminating females. However, it still remains to be shown if females can discriminate between the songs of stressed and non-stressed males. Here we use a novel experimental design using an active choice paradigm to investigate preferences in captive female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Nine females were exposed to ten pairs of songs by previously stressed and non-stressed birds that had learned their song from the same tutor. Song pairs differed significantly in terms of song complexity, with songs of stressed males exhibiting lower numbers of syllables and fewer different syllables in a phrase. Song rate and peak frequency did not differ between stressed and non-stressed males. Females showed a significant preference for non-stressed songs in terms of directed perching activity and time spent on perches. Our results therefore indicate that developmental stress affects not only the structure of male song, but that such structural differences are biologically relevant to female mate choice decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-428
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2005


  • bird song
  • Corticosterone
  • developmental stress
  • mate choice
  • sexual selection
  • BIAS


Dive into the research topics of 'Developmental stress affects the attractiveness of male song and female choice in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this