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Song characterization in the spectacled warbler (Sylvia conspicillata): a circum-Mediterranean species with a complex song structure

Ana María Palmero, Juan Carlos Illera & Paola Laiolo (2012). Song characterization in the spectacled warbler (Sylvia conspicillata): a circum-Mediterranean species with a complex song structure. Bioacoustics, Volume 21 (3): 175 -191



The spectacled warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) is a small passerine with a patchy distribution throughout the circum-Mediterranean region, including the North Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira, Canary Islands and Cape Verde. Here we characterize the species song structure on the island of Fuerteventura, quantifying repertoire size, inter- and intra-individual spectrographic variation, to determine whether acoustic variation occurred within an island population. Male song display was organized in song bouts of a variable number of song phrases, which in turn were made up of 4–69 syllables. We classified syllable types to derive a measure of repertoire size (number of different syllables) per song bout, and then used rarefaction methods to calculate the estimated repertoire size for our population of males. Three categories of song bout length were considered in analyses: short song bouts of 10 phrases, average bouts of 19 phrases and long bouts of ≥ 29 phrases. The observed and estimated repertoire size per male (between 43 and 126 syllables per male) increased with song bout duration, although the relationship was not significant for the estimated values. To test whether songs could be individually specific, we measured 11 spectrotemporal parameters of the song. A discriminant analysis using these variables performed poorly in classifying songs to the individuals that uttered them, but we found less variation in the individual than in the population for three out of the 11 variables. These individually specific variables, involving the first or the most common syllable of the song, the trill, were the duration of the first syllable of the phrase, the duration and the dominant frequency of the trill syllable. Our study emphasizes the complexity of spectacled warbler songs, in which males continuously add novel syllables over the entire song bout. This complexity appears to be determined by individual innovation capabilities rather than by the behaviour of copying neighbour repertoires, since songs of close birds were not more similar than songs from far-away territories.


acoustic differentiation, complex song, Fuerteventura, repertoire size, song characterization, Sylvia conspicillata