The theory of communication networks offers functional arguments for the evolution of unobtrusive signals in birds. The vulnerability of interacting conspecifics to predation and to eavesdropping by neighbours during both territorial disputes and courtship would select for short range signals such as the quiet songs of birds. In addition to suggesting contexts in which quiet songs should be used, we use our knowledge of the physics of sound transmission to make predictions about the physical structure of such songs relative to the well studied full songs. We present support for these predictions in six species where quiet singing has been observed.
bird song, quiet singing, communication networks, sound transmission