Importance of Frequency and Temporal Song Matching in Black-Capped Chickadees: Evidence from Interactive Playback


Ken A. Otter Biology Program, NRES, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, British Columbia, V2N 4Z9, Canada. E-mail:


Song-type matching during territorial contests may allow males of some bird species to direct their signal to a particular receiver. By matching the song-type and also responding immediately to a rival (temporal matching), a signalling male may indicate his willingness to escalate the contest. Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla) sing a single song-type, but are able to sing this song over a wide range of absolute frequencies. By using interactive playback to instigate and control the level of matching during trials, we investigated whether matching the frequency and the temporal patterning of song escalates contests. Males that were matched for both the frequency and the temporal pattern of their songs during trials escalated contests more than males that were not matched, while males that were only matched temporally had an intermediate response. During trials that consisted of temporal matching only, focal males often shifted frequency to match the playback. Our results confirm that frequency matching and temporal matching using a single song-type allows graded signalling during aggressive interactions in chickadees.