Song repertoires and density assessment in red-winged blackbirds: further tests of the Beau Geste hypothesis

Ken Yasukawa, William A. Searcy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The Beau Geste hypothesis proposes that song repertoires are advantageous in territory defense because nonterritorial males, who are prospecting for territories, use the number of song types they hear to assess the density of territorial males, and then avoid densely-settled areas. A territorial male can then inflate the apparent density of singers on his territory by singing several distinct song type. This hypothesis assumes (1) a positive correlation between the density of song types and the density of territorial males, and (2) a negative correlation between the rate of trespassing and the densities of both song types and territorial males. We studied the behavior of male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and found support for the first, but not the second, assumption. Results showing a positive correlation between density of song types and density of territorial males show that the proposed method of density assessment is feasible in this species. However, we could find no support for the assumption that nonterritorial male red-winged blackbirds avoid densely settled areas. In contrast to the assumed negative correlation, rate of trespass per territory was not consistently correlated with male density, and trespass rate per unit area was positively correlated with male density. Further, these relationships were retained when we controlled statistically for the effects of territory quality. We conclude that prospecting male red-winged blackbirds to not attempt to avoid densely settled areas, and that, although they do avoid territories defended by many song types, they do not use song type density to assess the density of territorial males. It is thus unlikely that the Beau Geste hypothesis adequately accounts for the evolution of song repertoires in the red-winged blackbird.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-175
Number of pages5
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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