Soft songs in male ortolan buntings are used in an aggressive context but are not an aggressive signal

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2018
Authors:Jakubowska, A, Osiejuk, TS
Secondary Authors:Fusani, L
Pagination:549 - 558
Date Published:Jan-08-2018
Keywords:Aggressive signals, ortolan bunting, soft song, territorial defence

Many bird species produce low‐amplitude acoustic signals that have been poorly studied in comparison with loud, broadcast songs used for mate attraction and repelling rivals. In some birds, these soft signals were found to be emitted in an antagonistic context and were the most reliable predictor of a subsequent physical attack. The function of this signal is poorly understood, and several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the mechanisms and possible functions of such low‐amplitude signals. The subject of this study is the ortolan bunting, a small passerine species that produces soft songs during territorial defence. In this study, we aim to study whether the soft songs of the ortolan bunting are a signal of increased aggressiveness by testing if they meet the context, prediction and response criteria of aggressive signals. We simulated stranger male intrusion into a focal male territory with three different playback experiments. We found no significant differences in the male responses to the taxidermic model regardless of whether they were or were not producing soft songs in response. The males responded more strongly to loud songs than to soft songs during the simulated intrusions, and the males did not treat soft songs as a predictor of conflict escalation. Although soft songs clearly appeared during territorial encounters and were not present during spontaneous singing before the intrusions, our results did not support the hypothesis that soft songs indicate aggressive character. We suggest that soft songs in the ortolan bunting are intentionally used by birds to modify their intentions or target‐specific individuals within a close range.

Short Title:Ethology
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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith