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In song learning, white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) begin memorizing conspecific song models at around 20 d of age. Even prior to song memorization, however, between 10 and 20 d of age, these birds respond differently to playbacks of conspecific and heterospecific songs. To investigate the acoustic cues underlying this early song discrimination, we measured the vocal responses of newly fledged young to playbacks of modified conspecific and heterospecific songs. Fledgling white-crowned sparrows responded more strongly to songs containing conspecific notes than to songs containing notes from other species. In contrast, the presence or placement of an introductory whistle, present in all white-crowned sparrow songs, did not affect response levels. A whistle has previously been shown to serve as an acoustic cue for song memorization and production in this species. Such different responses to the species-typical introductory whistle at different stages suggests that developmental changes occur in the template system underlying song learning, the factors governing song recognition, or both.