Behavioral consequences of song learning: Discrimination of song types by male white-crowned sparrows

Myron Charles Baker, Diana F. Tomback, Daniel B. Thompson, Tad C. Theimer, Dana C. Bradley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The functional significance of learned population differences in male song in the white-crowned sparrow was explored in natural populations using playback tests. Laboratory results have shown that learning of the population-specific song seems to take place in early life and is strongly dependent upon the nature of the auditory experience at that time. However, the varied results of recent studies make it difficult to reach a confident conclusion about the ecological functions of song learning. The present research took advantage of naturally occurring variation in the differences between songs of adjacent populations to determine a function relating degree of difference in song to intensity of territorial singing elicited. Applying a typological evaluation of syllable structure to the four segments of the song allowed a crude quantitative ranking of the differences between local songs and playback stimuli. These results, together with those of other studies, suggest a unimodal aggressive response function of males to songs of other males. A maximum response to songs slightly different from the local song environment suggests that male exclusion based upon acquired song components may contribute to the maintenance of discrete and stable song dialects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-440
Number of pages13
JournalLearning and Motivation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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