Many bird species participate in dawn singing, a behaviour categorized by intensive singing at dawn; however, many of these species deliver only one song type at dawn. While there are many proximate and ultimate hypotheses for why birds sing at dawn, little is known about whether males are able to vary one simple song to convey different information. We used autonomous acoustic recorders to record dawn songs of field sparrows and quantified three parameters of singing performance: 1) bout length, 2) song rate, and 3) song complexity. We found that males sang the longest dawn bouts during their mate's fertile period, the highest song rates during the post-fertile period, and the most complex songs during the pre-fertile period. The change in dawn singing behaviour with their mate's breeding stage suggest the purpose of dawn song may be context dependent. Our results demonstrate that male field sparrows, while only having a single song type sung at dawn, may convey information for both intra- and intersexual purposes. While it is generally assumed that dawn song has a specific function, the variability in the duration, rate, and complexity of dawn song in field sparrows suggests that they are conveying different information and that dawn song likely has multiple functions.
field sparrow, birdsong, dawn song, female fertility, song performance, song type