Saturday, August 25, 2007

Contemporary music

Alan Cane at the FT on a quirk of bird behavior:
Researchers in the US have found that female white-crowned sparrows reject males whose songs are out of date. Elizabeth Derryberry, a behavioural ecologist at Duke University, played female white-crowned sparrows a selection of male songs, some from 1979 and others from 2003. The birds solicited more mates from among the more recent recordings.

The recordings were of equal quality, and none of the birds tested had ever encountered in real life any of the males recorded. The newer songs were slower and lower in pitch than the older recordings, reported New Scientist.

Male birds also responded differently to the new and old songs, showing more aggressive behaviour when played the more contemporary songs. Ecologists believe that songbirds may change their songs to raise mating barriers to rival birds, producing the changes in song that the researchers observed.

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