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Abstract

Embryonic calls occur 1–3 d before hatching among precocial and some altricial birds. In precocial species, calls may synchronize hatching among siblings or, in semi-precocial species, elicit parental attention to, and often thermoregulation of, the hatching egg. Much less is known about the functional significance of calls in fully altricial species. In this study, naturalistic observations and laboratory experiments were used to document factors affecting calling and the parental responses to calls in one altricial species, the budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus. Budgerigar chicks hatch asynchronously and vocalize 24–48 h before hatching. Embryonic calling rates increase at higher egg temperatures, and also as embryos near hatching. Parents easily locate a calling egg in their clutch, even among a large brood of much older, vocalizing nestlings. Furthermore, they actively assist in the last stages of hatching by helping to break the shell along the crack in the egg. Both observational and experimental evidence suggests that embryonic vocalizations are distinctive signals that increase parental attention and care, and may stimulate hatching assistance to a calling egg.