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An analysis of avian vocal performance at the note and song levels

David M. Logue, Jacob A. Sheppard, Bailey Walton, Benjamin E. Brinkman & Orlando J. Medina (In press). An analysis of avian vocal performance at the note and song levels. Bioacoustics, Volume 29 (6):



Sexual displays that require extreme feats of physiological performance have the potential to reliably indicate the signaller’s skill or motivation. We tested for evidence of performance constraints in Adelaide’s warblers (Setophaga adelaidae) songs. At the note level, we identified three trade-offs with well-defined limits. At the song level, we identified two trade-offs, but their limits were less well-defined than the note-level limits. Trade-offs at both levels suggest that song structure is constrained by limits to the speed of both frequency modulation (while vocalising and between notes) and respiration. Performance metrics derived from the observed limits to performance varied moderately among individuals and strongly among song types. Note-level performance metrics were positively skewed, as predicted by the hypothesis that performance is constrained. We conclude that physiological limits on frequency modulation and respiration constrain song structure in male Adelaide’s warblers. Further work is needed to determine whether receivers respond to natural levels of variation in performance, and whether performance correlates with singer quality or motivation.


Bird song, frequency excursion (FEX), Luscinia, Parulidae, sexual selection, wood-warbler