Information contained within a simple acoustic signal: The fee-bee song of the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

  • Author / Creator
    Hahn, Allison H
  • Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are a common North American songbird that produce numerous types of vocalizations with various functions. The vocal repertoire of black-capped chickadees have been the focus of numerous vocal production and perception studies. Black-capped chickadees make an excellent model for studying acoustic communication because their vocal repertoire has been so well-studied. In addition to producing a learned song, parts of their chick-a-dee call are also learned. In many species of songbird, the species’ song is a long, complex vocalization, while the species’ calls are short and acoustically simple. In contrast to this, the fee-bee song of black-capped chickadees is a short and relatively simple two-note tonal vocalization, while their chick-a-dee call is a long and relatively complex vocalization. Although the acoustic structure of fee-bee songs is relatively simple, the function of male songs is similar to the function of other songbird songs: mate attraction and territory defense. In addition, male songs contain information regarding the individual producing the signal, including cues about the male’s dominance rank. In Chapter 2, I conducted a bioacoustic analysis on male songs recorded in different geographic locations. I found that the acoustic features that indicate a male’s dominance rank vary with geographic location, in addition, I found other subtle features within the song that vary with geographic location. Next, I used two operant conditioning techniques (i.e., choice preference task and a go/no-go discrimination task) to examine the perception of dominance cues in male fee-bee songs (Chapter 3). The results suggest that preference and discrimination performance varies depending on the location-of-origin of the singer, the sex of the signal receiver, and the category of songs that is rewarded during the task. I also examined the perception of geography-based acoustic cues in male fee-bee songs using a go/no-go operant discrimination task (Chapter 4). Results from this study provide evidence that male songs contain geography-related cues that are perceived by chickadees. In addition to examining acoustic cues in male songs, I also examined the production of songs by male and female chickadees. In many temperate songbirds, including black-capped chickadees, research has focused on male-produced song. However, in many temperate songbirds it is now recognized that both males and females produce song. To examine the production of songs by female black-capped chickadees, both males and females were recorded and a bioacoustic analysis was conducted on their songs (Study 4), revealing that while male and female songs have overall structural similarity (i.e., two notes), at least one acoustic feature (fee glissando) varies between the sexes. An operant conditioning task revealed that male and female songs belong to separate perceptual categories, but the biological salience of the songs affects the discrimination performance of the birds. In addition, this study revealed that acoustic features within the song’s first note (fee note) likely contain information regarding the singer’s sex (Study 5). Taken together, these studies reveal that a relatively simple vocalization, the fee-bee song, contains multiple types of information and birds can use this information when discriminating among songs; however, the biological relevance of the acoustic signal influences the discrimination performance of the birds.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2015
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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  • Institution
    University of Alberta
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  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Spetch, Marcia (Psychology)
    • Paszkowski, Cynthia (Biological Sciences)
    • Soma, Kiran (Psychology)
    • Singhal, Anthony (Psychology)
    • Hurd, Peter (Psychology)