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Abstract

New Zealand's endemic, duetting kokako (Callaeas cinerea wilsoni) produce one of the longest known bird songs (ca 30 s) and duets that differ strikingly from those of most duetters in their unusual length and non-repetitive structure, long pauses between component phrases, and the great flexibility in sex roles. Here we present a structural analysis of the vocalizations of 17 kokako pairs collected during natural song bouts and in response to conspecific playback, to gain insight into the functional role of this extraordinary vocal behavior. Males tend to sing a greater proportion of the duet than females. Like many duetting species, kokako have a moderately sized repertoire of phrases (mean repertoire size =18) and pair members tend to sing antiphonally rather than in unison. Sharing of phrase types is high among neighboring kokako (inline image = 86%) and repertoires are not sex specific, as is typical of some but not all duetting species. Timing characteristics, broad sharing of phrase types, and countersinging behavior strongly suggest that kokako duets play an important role in territory defense. Additionally, differences in pairs’ sex role and phrase sequence flexibility suggest that these aspects of duet performance may reflect pair-bond length or commitment, and require a time investment by pair members.