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An Interactive Playback Experiment Shows Song Bout Size Discrimination in the Suboscine Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

Authors

  • Karla Rivera-Cáceres,

    1. Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F., México
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  • Constantino Macías Garcia,

    1. Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F., México
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  • Esmeralda Quirós-Guerrero,

    1. Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F., México
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  • Alejandro A. Ríos-Chelén

    1. Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F., México
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Alejandro A. Ríos-Chelén, Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. A.P. 70-275, C.P. 04510 México, D.F., México.
E-mail: aarios@ecologia.unam.mx

Abstract

Many aspects of the social behaviour of birds are mediated by vocal displays, and variation in song output or song structure conveys different information to receivers. After nest construction begins, when vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) females are potentially fertile, males increase their song rate during the dawn chorus. A previous study failed to give evidence that males discriminate among song rates. However, males sing in sequences of songs (song bouts), and an increase in song rate may be achieved by increasing the number of bouts, the number of songs in each bout (bout size) or both. Studying a vermilion flycatcher population in Mexico City, we evaluated whether dawn song rate is related to song bout size or to number of bouts. Bout size correlated with song rate and differed among males. We hypothesized that longer bouts are more threatening signals than shorter ones and predicted a stronger response by males towards the former. We exposed each male to three playback treatments: (1) Long song bout (Long), in which we replied to the male with twice the number of songs he sang in the bout, (2) Short song bout (Short), in which we played half the number of songs sung by the male and (3) Control, this was the same as the Long treatment but we used songs from a related species, the tropical kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus). Males responded with a higher proportion of calls near the speaker when exposed to the Long treatment than during the Short or Control treatments, indicating that they discriminate among song bouts differing in size, that they may perceive longer bouts as more threatening and that they use calls rather than songs to address threatening situations. Our results suggest that song bout size is a relevant song attribute that conveys information during intrasexual interactions.

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