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Variation in Vocal Performance in the Songs of a Wood-Warbler: Evidence for the Function of Distinct Singing Modes


Martin D. Beebee, 9387 Rio Vista Rd., Forestville, CA 95436, USA. E-mail:


Male North American wood-warblers (family Parulidae) subdivide their song repertoires into two different categories, or modes, of singing (first and second category songs). These two modes are thought to be specialized for interacting with females and males, although the data are inconclusive. I conducted an acoustic analysis of the song types used by yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia) for type I (first category) and type II (second category) singing to ask whether there are consistent structural differences between them which could provide insight into how they might function as separate signals. I found that type I songs are performed closer to the upper boundary of a song performance limit, measured in terms of the difficulty of production, compared with type II songs. By contrast, the performance of specific song types did not depend on whether they were used for type I singing vs. type II singing by different males. In addition, type I songs had a greater amplitude increase across the first two syllables compared with type II songs. There was no relationship between the performance of type I or type II songs and male condition. These results suggest that wood-warblers might subdivide their song repertoire into distinct categories to highlight the relative vocal performance of their songs.