Male great tits eavesdrop on simulated male-to-male vocal interactions

Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Jun 7;268(1472):1183-7. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2001.1648.


Animal communication generally occurs in the environment of a network of several potential signallers and receivers. Within a network environment, it is possible to gain relative information about conspecifics by eavesdropping on signalling interactions. We presented male great tits with the opportunity to gain such information by simulating singing interactions using two loudspeakers. Interactions were presented so that relevant information was not available in the absolute singing behaviour of either individual, only in the relative timing of their songs in the interaction as a whole. We then assayed the information extracted by focal males by subsequently introducing one of the 'interactants' (i.e. loudspeakers) into the territory of the focal male. Focal males responded with a reduced song output to males that had just 'lost' an interaction. Focal males did not respond significantly differently to 'winners' as compared with intruders recently involved in an interaction that contained no consistent information. Focal males also responded by switching song types more often when encountering males that had recently been involved in a low-intensity interaction. These results provide the clearest evidence yet that male songbirds extract information from signal interactions between conspecifics in the field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Male
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal*