Early development of vocal interaction rules in a duetting songbird

Karla D. Rivera-Cáceres*, Esmeralda Quirós-Guerrero, Marcelo Araya-Salas, Christopher N. Templeton, William A. Searcy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Exchange of vocal signals is an important aspect of animal communication. Although birdsong is the premier model for understanding vocal development, the development of vocal interaction rules in birds and possible parallels to humans have been little studied. Many tropical songbirds engage in complex vocal interactions in the form of duets between mated pairs. In some species, duets show precise temporal coordination and follow rules (duet codes) governing which song type one bird uses to reply to each of the song types of its mate. We determined whether these duetting rules are acquired during early development in canebrake wrens. Results show that juveniles acquire a duet code by singing with a mated pair of adults and that juveniles gradually increase their fidelity to the code over time. Additionally, we found that juveniles exhibit poorer temporal coordination than adults and improve their coordination as time progresses. Human turn-taking, an analogous rule to temporal coordination, is learned during early development. We report that the ontogeny of vocal interaction rules in songbirds is analogous to that of human conversation rules.

Original languageEnglish
Article number171791
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Birdsong
  • Duet codes
  • Duet development
  • Duetting
  • Temporal coordination
  • Vocal interaction


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