Attending to the chick-a-dee call of the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

  • Author / Creator
    Campbell, Kimberley
  • Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are a species of songbird commonly found across much of North America. Their namesake chick-a-dee call is an acoustically complex vocalization that is partially learned (Hughes, Nowicki, & Lohr, 1998) and whose syntax is comparatively similar to that of human language (Hailman & Ficken, 1986). This call serves a variety of functions including flock coordination and synchronization of mobbing behaviours, however there is much to learn about the production, perception, and meaning of this complex vocalization.
    In Chapter 2, I conducted operant conditioning go/no-go discrimination tasks to test black-capped chickadees’ perception of acoustic categories, specifically the sex of the signaller. I found that while chickadees can learn to discriminate male calls from female calls, they do so by memorizing training stimuli, rather than learning to discriminate between conceptual categories.
    Chapter 3 investigated how the note order within calls is perceived using both categorization and individual preference as evaluated by a choice preference task. I found that chickadees not only learn to discriminate between natural-ordered and scramble-ordered chick-a-dee calls, but they do so using open-ended categories. Additionally, individual preference appears to be related to rate of learning on the discrimination task.
    In Chapter 4, I used a behavioral task to investigate the impact of anthropogenic noise on feeding behavior, also asking if conspecific chick-a-dee calls might mitigate those changes. Though the playback of conspecific calls did not lessen the effect of anthropogenic noise, we learned that feeding behaviour does change when birds are exposed to anthropogenic noise such that birds feed less during playback than they do during silence.
    Overall, the results of these experiments revealed the variety of acoustic features present in chick-a-dee calls, increasing our understanding of how chickadees do or do not perceive those features, and illuminating behaviors that occur in response to those features. This adds to our understanding of an acoustically and functionally complex vocalization of a small North American songbird.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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