Song-type sharing in song sparrows: Implications for repertoire function and song learning

Melissa Hughes, Stephen Nowicki, William A. Searcy, Susan Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


One hypothesis for the function of song repertoires is that males learn multiple song types so that they may share songs with neighbors, allowing them to match during territorial interactions. In at least one song sparrow population, in Washington, territorial males share a high proportion of song types with their neighbors and use these shared songs in matching. We recorded song sparrows in Pennsylvania and quantified sharing of whole songs and song segments. We found that song sharing is an order of magnitude less common in the Pennsylvania population. We found sharing of song segments to be significantly more common than the sharing of whole songs in three of the five fields we examined, while we found no significant differences between whole and partial song sharing in the remaining two fields. Finally, we found no evidence that sharing is greater between birds in the same field compared to birds in different fields. Taken with the data from Washington song sparrows, these results provide evidence for intraspecific geographic variation in the organization of song repertoires, and suggest that song sharing has not been a strong selective force in the evolution of song repertoires in song sparrows as a species. Furthermore, Washington and Pennsylvania song sparrows differ in how they learn song, in that Washington birds copy whole songs, while Pennsylvania birds appear to copy and recombine song segments, as has been found in laboratory studies of song learning. Thus both song learning and the function of song repertoires differ between populations of song sparrows. Such intraspecific geographic variation offers a unique opportunity to explore the ecological and historical factors which have influenced the evolution of song.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-446
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1998


  • Birdsong
  • Geographic variation
  • Repertoires
  • Song learning
  • Song sharing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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