Neighbours’ talk: interspecific choruses among songbirds

Rachele Malavasi, Almo Farina (2013). Neighbours’ talk: interspecific choruses among songbirds. Bioacoustics, Volume 22 (1): 33 -48

In territorial songbirds, duets between mates represent one of the best-known examples of communal display, with the main function being the defence of joint resources. In this study, we found evidence of a coordinated choral display performed by neighbouring heterospecific songbirds. In such choruses, most of the participating species perform a deliberate temporal overlap of songs, thus suggesting agonistic behaviour. However, they then utilize a complex form of behaviour to avoid signal jamming, making the aggressive purpose unlikely. We define these displays as “coordinated interspecific choruses”. We recorded dusk choruses of songbirds living in a mixed turkey oak wood in central Italy, and then carried out a niche overlap analysis using null models that were intended for investigations of concurrent emissions of songs, finding that species tend to sing concurrently instead of using the refractory period of another species. Among the species singing concurrently, about half used the same frequency range, but instead of finding considerable spectral overlap between their vocalizations, the number of real spectral overlaps was lower than would be expected by chance. We propose a tentative explanation for this, where such choruses are the expression of the existence of a neighbourhood of different species that has evolved a communal signal that is similar to that used by mates in a pair, i.e. coordinated vocalizations. As coordination requires experience of each other's songs, we propose that evolution has selected individuals that are more skilled at learning heterospecific songs.


bird choruses, jamming avoidance, concurrent emissions, heterospecific communication