Differences in short-term vocal learning in parrots, a comparative study

in Behaviour
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Parrots are renowned for their vocal learning abilities. Yet only few parrot species have been investigated and empirically proven to possess vocal learning abilities. The aim of this study was to investigate if short-term vocal learning may be a widespread phenomenon among Psittaciformes. Through an interactive experiment we compare the ability of four parrot species, the peach-fronted conure (Aratinga aurea), the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus), the peach-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis) and the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), to vocally match playback of contact calls. All four species made an overall change to their contact call in response to the playback, and they also varied the degree of similarity with the playback call throughout the playback experiment. The peach-fronted conure showed the biggest overall changes to their contact calls by vocally matching the playback call and the budgerigar showed the least change. The cockatiel and the peach-faced lovebird showed intermediary levels of change making their calls overall less similar to the playback call. The peach-fronted conure responded with highest similarity to familiar individuals and the cockatiel responded with an overall higher similarity to female playback stimuli. Cockatiel males and budgerigar males responded with a higher call rate to playback than female conspecifics. Peach-faced lovebirds responded fastest to unfamiliar males. Based on the results we conclude that short-term vocal learning is a widespread phenomenon among parrots. The way short-term vocal learning is used however, differs between species suggesting that short-term vocal learning have different functions in different species.

Differences in short-term vocal learning in parrots, a comparative study

in Behaviour

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Figures

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    Spectrogram (FFT length 512, overlap 93.75%, bandwidth 112 Hz, Hamming window, frequency resolution 86 Hz, time resolution 0.72 ms) of a typical contact call of each species. (A) Peach-fronted conure, (B) cockatiel, (C) peach-faced lovebird and (D) budgerigar. The spectrograms were made with AviSoft-SASLab Pro ver. 4.50-4.53 and ver. 5.1.11 (Avisoft Bioacoustics). All spectrograms are filtered (Peach-fronted conure 0.5–16 kHz; cockatiel 1.3–10 kHz; peach-faced lovebird 0.5–16 kHz; budgerigar 1–15 kHz).

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    Spectrographic cross-correlation coefficient similarity (illustrated by the lsmeans from the mixed model) between the solo calls and playback stimuli, CCplb vs. solo (‘Solo’) and between the re-recorded playback stimuli and the response calls, CCre-plb vs. response (‘Playback’). The bars represent SE.

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    Example of spectrograms (FFT length 512, overlap 93.75%, bandwidth 112 Hz, Hamming window, frequency resolution 86 Hz, time resolution 0.72 ms) of a peach-fronted conure contact call given spontaneously by the test subject (Solo call), a playback contact call (Playback) and the response given by the test subject to the playback (Response). (A) The response that matches the playback best (convergence); (B) the response that matches the playback worst (divergence). All spectrograms are unfiltered. The spectrographic cross-correlation similarity between the solo call and the playback and between the playback and response is for A: 0.35 and 0.78, B: 0.63 and 0.58.

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    Example of (A) a no-change interaction (r2=0.01, p>0.05, N=53); (B) a convergent interaction (r2=0.38, p<0.001, N=44); and (C) a divergent interaction (r2=0.13, p<0.05, N=48). Each dot represents a response call. The high number of responses are due to the birds responding with more than one response per played playback stimulus.

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    The relative change in similarity. There was a significant difference between the two contexts, i.e., ‘Playback’ and ‘Solo’ for the peach-fronted conure, the cockatiel and the peach-faced lovebird but not for the budgerigars. ‘Playback’ represents the cross-correlation similarity between the re-recorded playback stimuli and the response calls minus the intercept for the trial with the relevant playback stimuli (CCre-plb vs. response − CCintercept). ‘Solo’ represents the cross-correlation similarity between the playback stimuli and the solo calls minus the intercept for the trial with the relevant playback stimuli (CCplb vs. solo − CCintercept).

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    (A) Peach-fronted conures respond with a higher similarity to familiar individuals than to unfamiliar individuals. (B) Female peach-fronted conures respond with higher similarity to familiar individuals than to unfamiliar individuals.

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    (A) Cockatiel males respond with a higher call rate to playback stimuli than females. (B) Cockatiel males respond faster to playback stimuli than females. (C) Cockatiels have a higher similarity with conspecific female stimuli than conspecific male stimuli. (D) The interaction between stimuli bird sex and familiarity show that cockatiels match familiar males the poorest.

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    (A) Peach-faced lovebirds respond fastest to unfamiliar males. (B) Peach-faced lovebirds respond with a higher call rate to unfamiliar males than to familiar males and with a higher call rate to familiar females than to unfamiliar females.

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    (A) Budgerigar males respond with a higher call rate to playback stimuli than females. (B) Budgerigar males respond faster to playback stimuli than females.

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    The relative change in similarity. Context (i.e., solo and playback) affected test birds differently as indicated by the significant interactions between ‘test bird sex’ and context and between ‘stimuli bird sex’ and context (Table 2). (A) Peach-fronted conure; (B) cockatiel; (C) budgerigar. ‘Male playback’ and ‘Female playback’ represents the cross-correlation coefficients between the re-recorded playback stimuli and the response calls minus the intercept for the trial with the relevant playback stimuli (CCre-plb vs. response − CCintercept). ‘Male Solo’ and ‘Female Solo’ represents the cross-correlation coefficients between the playback stimuli and the solo call minus the intercept for the trial with the relevant playback stimuli (CCplb vs. solo − CCintercept).

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