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Responses to Playback of Local vs. Distant Contact Calls in the Orange-Fronted Conure, Aratinga canicularis


Corresponding author: Sandra L. Vehrencamp, Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell Univ., 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850, USA. E-mail:


We conducted interactive playback experiments on foraging flocks of orange-fronted conures, Aratinga canicularis, using loud contact calls that had been recorded at sites ranging from 0 to 30 km from the playback site. Responses were scored on the basis of the proximity of approach to the speaker, the number of different vocalizations produced by the responding flock, and the duration of respondent vocal interactions with the playbacks. Overall response strength decreased significantly as distance between playback and recording sites was increased up to 9 km, and remained at a steady low level for greater distances. As 9 km is the upper limit of conure home ranges measured in this study site, this nonlinear effect of response with distance suggests that response strength is partly determined by familiarity with calls of local birds. An additional and independent amount of the variation in response strength was explained by the structural similarity between respondent and stimulus calls. This correlation could be caused by a preference to interact with known stimulus birds whose calls have converged during prior associations. However, our data suggest that responding birds subtly changed their call structure during longer trials to more closely match the stimulus call. If subsequently verified as a common phenomenon, this finding could provide an important explanation for the remarkable imitative abilities of parrots.

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