Individual and local variations in the song of the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) on Spitzbergen

Y. Espmark (1995). Individual and local variations in the song of the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) on Spitzbergen. Bioacoustics, Volume 6 (2): 117 -133

Variations in song pattern within and between individuals as well as between areas were investigated by analysing the song of 11 and 13 snow bunting Plectrophenax nivalis males at Logyearbyen and Ny Aalesund, respectively, on Spitsbergen (Svalbard).

Individually, each of the males, except one, had only one song type, and the number of figure types ranged between 3 and 11. The relative variability (CV) was below 16% for all the variables analysed in the song strophe (number of figures and figure types, figure diversity, duration, maximum, minimum and range of frequency). The males differed significantly in all the variables analysed, and when the two study areas were compared with regard to these variables, no differences were found except for longer song strophes and a tendency towards less song versatility in Ny Aalesund. Furthermore, more than 90% of the 125 identified figure types were specific to the areas, although the majority of them (70%) were specific to particular males. Most of the males had their own characteristic song type with no or only little overlap of figure types and motifs between individuals. However, a 'nucleus' of five males at Ny Aalesund tended to share songs to a greater extent than more distant males in the same area.

It is concluded that the stereotypic song of the snow bunting fits into the pattern described as characteristic of the song of most Emberizidae species. Furthermore, since it was more characteristic of snow buntings to have individual song patterns than to share songs, this study does not provide any strong support for the occurrence of local song dialects in this species.