Male response to an aggressive visual signal, the wing wave display, in swamp sparrows

R. C. Anderson, A. L. DuBois, D. K. Piech, W. A. Searcy, S. Nowicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Signaling often involves complex suites of behaviors that incorporate different sensory modalities. Whatever modality is used to establish that a signal functions in communication researchers must demonstrate that receivers respond to it. The territory defense response of male swamp sparrows involves a variety of behaviors that includes both vocal and visual displays. One of these, the "wing wave" display, is a distinctive movement that predicts physical attack. Here, we use robotic taxidermic mounts paired with song to test the hypothesis that wing waving is a signal and, specifically, that male receivers respond to wing waving as a signal of aggressive intent. As predicted, subjects responded more aggressively to the mount during wing waving trials than during stationary trials. A second experiment demonstrated that this effect cannot be attributed simply to increased attention to movement. Less expectedly, subjects did not alter their own display behavior in response to wing waving as compared to a static mount. We conclude that the wing wave display in the context of singing is a signal that functions in male-male aggressive communication. Questions remain, including whether wing waving functions as a signal in the absence of singing and whether wing waving and song are redundant signals or communicate different information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)593-600
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Aggressive signal
  • Animal communication
  • Animal robot
  • Swamp sparrow
  • Visual display
  • Wing wave

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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