Singing it softly

Singing male Zebra Finch. (Photo Hugo Loning)

Zebra finch song is an extremely short-range signal. That is the conclusion from the recent paper by Hugo Loning in Behavioral Ecology. This is the first paper of our project on acoustic communication of the wild zebra finch in collaboration with Marc Naguib from Wageningen University. After quantifying the song amplitude of wild zebra finch recordings, we played them back at natural amplitude and re-recorded them in our field site Fowlers Gap. Afterwards, we analysed these transmitted vocalisations while integrating what is known about the hearing from lab zebra finches. This way, we found out that the detection distance of song is on average about nine meters – an extremely short distance for song. We supported this claim by observations in the field which confirm that group members are often very close, on average within one meter, when a group member is singing. Additionally, we find that even their ‘distance call’ does not reach very far, up to about fourteen meters. Our reported findings are in stark contrast with the classical idea of birdsong as a long-range communication signal. The paper can be freely accessed here.

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