Female happy wrens select songs to cooperate with their mates rather than confront intruders

Christopher Neal Templeton, Alejandro A. Ríos-Chelén, Esmeralda Quirós-Guerrero, Nigel I. Mann, Peter James Bramwell Slater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Vocal duetting occurs in many taxa, but its function remains much-debated. Like species in which only one sex sings, duetting birds can use their song repertoires to signal aggression by singing song types that match those of territorial intruders. However, when pairs do not share specific combinations of songs (duet codes), individuals must choose to signal aggression by matching the same-sex rival, or commitment by replying appropriately to their mate. Here, we examined the song types used by female happy wrens (Pheugopedius felix) forced to make this decision in a playback experiment. We temporarily removed the male from the territory and then played songs from two loudspeakers to simulate an intruding female and the removed mate's response, using song types that the pair possessed but did not naturally combine into duets. Females were aggressive towards the female playback speaker, approaching it and overlapping the female playback songs, but nevertheless replied appropriately to their mate's songs instead of type matching the intruding female. This study indicates that females use song overlapping to signal aggression but use their vocal repertoires to create pair-specific duet codes with their mates, suggesting that duetting functions primarily to demonstrate pair commitment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20120863
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number1
Early online date24 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2013


  • duetting
  • song matching
  • happy wren
  • territory defence
  • cooperation


Dive into the research topics of 'Female happy wrens select songs to cooperate with their mates rather than confront intruders'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this