Neighbour recognition in two sister songbird species with a simple and complex repertoire – a playback study

Pavel Jaška, Pavel Linhart, Roman Fuchs

Published online: 
30 September 2014

The ability of individuals to recognize others based on vocalizations has been proven in many species of birds. However, we are still far from understanding important aspects of the discrimination process. For example, it is still not fully understood whether, and why, repertoire size hinders discrimination between individuals. Further, the strategies and vocal cues used for discrimination between individuals are largely unexplored. In this study, we tested the ability of chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and willow warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, two closely related species with different repertoire sizes and song organization, to differentiate between their neighbours on the basis of a single song of a neighbouring male. We did playback experiments within the ‘dear enemy’ paradigm in which we tested resident males with a single song of a neighbour broadcast from the correct and opposite, incorrect territory border. Both species displayed a strong ability to discriminate between their neighbours representing further evidence that repertoire size per se has no negative impact on individual recognition in songbirds. Using a single song for playback allowed us to speculate about the nature of the possible cues used by males for recognition. Individual recognition in both species is most likely based on the modulation of syllables or on general voice characteristics. We suggest that specific changes in song organization, for example the tendency of individuals to insert a distinct phrase at the beginning of each song, may facilitate individual recognition and compensate for increased repertoire size in willow warblers.

Doi
10.1111/jav.00482