Choreography of song, dance and beak movements in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)

J Exp Biol. 2001 Oct;204(Pt 20):3497-506.


As do many songbirds, zebra finches sing their learned songs while performing a courtship display that includes movements of the body, head and beak. The coordination of these display components was assessed by analyzing video recordings of courting males. All birds changed beak aperture frequently within a single song, and each individual's pattern of beak movements was consistent from song to song. Birds that copied their father's songs reproduced many of the changes in beak aperture associated with particular syllables. The acoustic consequences of opening the beak were increases in amplitude and peak frequency, but not in fundamental frequency, of song syllables. The change in peak frequency is consistent with the hypothesis that an open beak results in a shortened vocal tract and thus a higher resonance frequency. Dance movements (hops and changes in body or head position) were less frequent, and the distribution of dance movements within the song was not as strongly patterned as were changes in beak aperture, nor were the peaks in the distribution as strongly marked. However, the correlation between the positioning of dance movements within fathers' and sons' songs was striking, suggesting that the choreography of dance patterns is transmitted from tutor to pupil together with the song.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beak / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Video Recording
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*