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Song is a reliable signal of bill morphology in Darwin's small tree finch Camarhynchus parvulus, and vocal performance predicts male pairing success


  • Rebekah Christensen,

  • Sonia Kleindorfer,

  • Jeremy Robertson

R. Christensen, S. Kleindorfer (correspondence) and J. Robertson, School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia. E-mail:


The shape and movement of the vocal tract are known to influence bird song. Current theory predicts that large bill and body size are correlated with low frequency song and slow trill rate. It is also widely accepted that song characteristics are important for mate choice by females. We investigated the relationship between bill morphology, song characteristics, and pairing success in Darwin's small tree finch Camarhynchus parvulus, on the Galapagos Islands. Contrary to predictions from a previous cross-species study on Darwin's finches, we found that individuals with larger bill size produced songs with slow trill rate, high dominant frequency, and broad frequency bandwidth, indicating that song is a reliable signal of bill morphology. Vocal performance as indicated by the deviation from an upper performance limit was higher in paired than unpaired males. Pairing was not skewed in favour of a particular bill size, and both small and large billed males that sang high performance song had high pairing success. The reliable signalling function of song has implications for female choice and territorial defence, given that both females and conspecific competitors can assess the relative size of males’ bills through song, while females may use vocal performance as a signal of male quality.