Do songbirds attend to song categories when selecting breeding habitat? A case study with a wood warbler

in Behaviour
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Breeding habitat selection strongly affects reproduction and individual fitness. Among birds, using social cues from conspecifics to select habitat is widespread, but how different types of conspecific social cues influence breeding habitat selection remains less understood. We conducted a playback experiment evaluating if the yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia), a species with two song categories linked to pairing status, uses categories differently when selecting breeding habitat. We hypothesized that yellow warblers use second-category singing mode, which is mostly sung by paired males, over first-category singing mode for habitat selection, as successfully paired males should indicate higher-quality habitat. We broadcast yellow warbler first-category singing mode, second-category singing mode, and silent controls at sites in Illinois. Yellow warblers were more abundant at sites treated with second-category singing mode compared other sites. Our results demonstrate that yellow warblers use social cues informing successful pairing over other types of social cues to select breeding habitat.

Do songbirds attend to song categories when selecting breeding habitat? A case study with a wood warbler

in Behaviour



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  • View in gallery

    Example of two songs from the first-category (top) and second-category (bottom) singing mode playlists. The first-category playlist was comprised solely of accented songs easily distinguished by upward-sloping terminal syllables (dashed underline), whereas the second-category playlist contained only unaccented songs with distinctive downward-sloping terminal syllables (dashed underline). Note the repetitive phrases (A) in the first-category playlist to simulate Type-I singing, and low repetition of phrases (B versus C) in the second-category playlist to simulate Type-II singing.

  • View in gallery

    Mean yellow warbler abundances, measured via weekly point counts at 44 playback treatment sites in 2014. The bar graph is of actual mean estimates from the data. Bars represent standard error.

  • View in gallery

    Regression of mean yellow warbler counts, measured via weekly point counts at 44 playback treatment sites in 2014, on the proportion of males at sites using unaccented song (with regression lines, R2 coefficients), where x-marks indicate silent controls sites with no playback (dashed–dotted line), circles first-category song treatment sites (dashed line) and triangles second-category song treatments sites (solid line). Points are actual mean estimates from the data. Bars represent standard error.

  • View in gallery

    Modelled estimates from regression of mean yellow warbler counts on the area of the site (ha), where x-marks indicate silent controls sites with no playback (dashed–dotted line), circles first-category song treatment sites (dashed line) and triangles second-category song treatments sites (solid line). Points are mean estimates from the regression model. Bars represent standard error.

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    Map of study sites located throughout central and northern Illinois during 2014 (lines indicate county boundaries), where circles indicate first-category song treatments, triangles second-category song treatments, and x-marks silent controls with no playback. Site sample sizes by county were as follows: Champaign (n=4), DeKalb (n=2), DeWitt (n=1), DuPage (n=9), Fulton (n=1), Iroquois (n=1), Kane (n=4), Kankakee (n=3), LaSalle (n=1), Lee (n=1), Ogle (n=1), Macon (n=1), McHenry (n=2), McLean (n=1), Vermilion (n=3), Will (n=3) and Winnebago (n=6). The map was created using ArcGIS version 10.4 (ESRI, Redlands, CA, USA). Map source: Illinois Natural Resources Geospatial Data Clearinghouse, Illinois State Geological Survey, (accessed 14 April 2017).


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