Vocal Plasticity – are Pied Flycatchers, Ficedula Hypoleuca, Open-Ended Learners?
Article first published online: 16 DEC 2010
© 2010 Blackwell Verlag GmbH
Volume 117, Issue 3, pages 188–198, March 2011
How to Cite
Eriksen, A., Slagsvold, T. and Lampe, H. M. (2011), Vocal Plasticity – are Pied Flycatchers, Ficedula Hypoleuca, Open-Ended Learners?. Ethology, 117: 188–198. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2010.01864.x
- Issue published online: 1 FEB 2011
- Article first published online: 16 DEC 2010
- Received: February 26, 2010 Initial acceptance: April 15, 2010 Final acceptance: October 20, 2010 (G. Beckers)
In some songbird species, large song repertoires are advantageous in female attraction, whereas song sharing with neighbours may give an advantage in male–male competition. Open-ended learners, with the ability to memorize new song elements throughout their lives, may learn from territorial neighbours and thus benefit from increasing both repertoire size and song sharing. A distinction needs to be made between true adult song learning, i.e. memorization of novel song elements, and vocal plasticity resulting in changes in the use of previously memorized elements, such as the use of hidden repertoires or increased production of previously rare syllable types. We assessed the ability of adult pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca males to learn previously unheard song elements and to change their song production in response to playback of unfamiliar, conspecific song, emulating a singing neighbour. After a 1-week playback treatment, three out of 20 subjects had learned foreign song elements, providing evidence from the wild that pied flycatchers are true open-ended learners. However, the syllable sharing with the playback stimulus repertoires had not changed, and the males’ repertoires had decreased rather than increased. Hence, we did not find support for increased syllable sharing with neighbours or increased repertoire size as functions of adult song learning in pied flycatchers. Because pied flycatcher song seems to serve mainly for mate attraction, copying of attractive syllable types is a possible alternative function of adult song learning in this species.