Cues to individual identity in songs of songbirds: testing general song characteristics in Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita


Alexandra Průchová, Pavel Jaška, Pavel Linhart



Individual variation in vocalizations has been widely studied among different animal taxa, and it is commonly reported that vocalizations could be potentially used to monitor individuals in many species. Songbirds represent a challenging group of animals for the study of signalling of individual identity. They are highly vocal, but their songs are complex and can change over time. In this study, we tested whether general song characteristics, which are independent of song type, can be used to discriminate and consistently identify Chiffchaff males within and between days and between years. There was individual variation in songs of recorded Chiffchaffs, and it was possible to easily discriminate between males at any one point in time. However, the level of re-identification of males across days and years was low. For effective identification it was necessary to compare songs of a single song type. However, Chiffchaffs haphazardly switch among song types, sometimes singing the same song type for a long time, making it difficult to collect equivalent song types or to sample the birds’ full repertoires. For example, 5-min recordings of males taken in different years did not contain equivalent song types, leading to low identification success. Although we were not successful in the re-identification of males based on general song characteristics, we discuss methods of acoustic identification which are not dependent on song repertoire content and are potentially valuable tools for the study of species such as the Chiffchaff.

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