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Journal of Ornithology





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Calls, Diel variation, Duets, Emberizidae, Songs, Tropics

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There are relatively few quantitative descriptive studies of the vocalisations and vocal behaviour of tropical bird species, in spite of the tropic’s rich avian biodiversity and the extensive variety of vocalisations produced by tropical birds. This lack of information inhibits our understanding of tropical animals, including our ability to perform comparative analyses on vocal behaviours from an evolutionary perspective. In this study, we present the first quantitative description of the vocal repertoire and daily vocal activity of White-eared Ground-sparrows (Melozone leucotis), using focal and autonomous recordings collected during two consecutive breeding seasons in Costa Rica. We classified vocalisations into categories based on their visual appearance on sound spectrograms to create a library of vocalisations for this species. We found that White-eared Ground-sparrows produce three main categories of vocalisations: solo songs, calls, and duets. Solo songs were produced only by males. Each male sang a repertoire of solo song types, which all shared the same general structure with short introductory notes, a frequency-modulated middle section, and a terminal trill. Both sexes produce calls and coordinated vocal duets. We quantified patterns of diel variation in each category of vocalisation, and found that the Ground-sparrows produced all three vocalisations at higher output at dawn (between 0500 and 0600 hours) compared to the rest of the day. This study allowed us to conduct the first comparisons of vocalisations between White-eared Ground-sparrows and North American species in the genus Melozone, and revealed both similarities and differences between the species groups. Our investigation also showed that vocalisations related to communication within pairs and to territory defence (calls and duets) exhibited lower levels of individual distinctiveness than vocalisations related mainly to female attraction (male solo songs). Our observations suggest that each of the three types of vocalisations have multiple functions in White-eared Ground-sparrows, revealing diverse communication functions with a small vocal repertoire in this tropical songbird.



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