Nuttall's white-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys nuttalli and the Puget Sound white-crowned sparrow Z. l. pugetensis intergrade through a zone of hybridization in southern California. The songs of the two differ in the sequence of syllable types and in the phonology of the complex syllables. We did a playback experiment to males of both subspecies in the field and to females of both subspecies in the laboratory to determine their response to the two subspecies songs. By making alterations of features of the songs, we also attempted to identify characteristics that account for subspecific recognition. Males of both subspecies were more responsive to their own subspecies song than to that of the other subspecies.
Substitution of Puget Sound complex syllables into the Nuttall's song caused a reduction in response by male Nuttall’s, but alteration of a Nuttall’s song to a Puget Sound sequence of syllables had no effect. Females of both subspecies gave more sexual displays when played a song of their own subspecies than when played that of the other subspecies. Female Nuttall's gave an intermediate response when played Nuttall's songs with Puget Sound complex syllables or when played Nuttall's songs altered to a Puget Sound sequence.
Puget Sound females did not discriminate between their own subspecies song and either of The altered stimulus songs separately. They did respond less to a song that combined both Alterations than to their own subspecies song.