Female response to song reflects male developmental history in swamp sparrows

William A. Searcy, Susan Peters, Silke Kipper, Stephen Nowicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


One explanation for why female songbirds attend to male song is that the quality of a male's song is associated with the quality of his developmental history. We tested this hypothesis by playing back to female swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) songs recorded from males of either inferior or superior developmental histories, as assessed by their rates of mass gain during the first 18 days post-hatching. Females showed significantly higher levels of courtship display in response to songs of males with superior growth than to songs of males with inferior growth. Out of nine song traits measured, only song duration correlated with variation in female response; duration was also the only trait that differed significantly in univariate comparisons between the superior growth songs and the inferior growth songs. In a multivariate analysis, however, inferior growth songs were best discriminated from superior growth songs by combining three song traits: trill rate, stereotypy, and the number of notes per syllable. We suggest that early developmental stress degrades song in many small ways, and that it is the cumulative effect of the resulting deficits that explains lower female response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1343-1349
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010


  • Animal communication
  • Bird song
  • Developmental stress
  • Sexual selection
  • Song development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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