Title

Operant discrimination of relative frequency ratios in black-capped chickadee song

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2017

Publication Title

Animal Cognition

Volume

20

Issue

5

First Page

961

Last Page

973

DOI

10.1007/s10071-017-1115-5

Abstract

The two-note fee bee song of the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is sung at many different absolute frequencies, but the relative frequencies, or “pitch ratios”, between the start and end of the fee note (glissando) and the fee and the bee notes (inter-note interval) are preserved with each pitch-shift. Ability to perceive these ratios and their relative salience varies with sex of the bird and setting: while both sexes appear to perceive changes in the inter-note interval, males appear to attend to the glissando in the field, and females appear to attend to both ratios. In this study, we compared directly whether male and female chickadees could discriminate between normal fee bee songs and songs that had one or both of the pitch ratios altered, and whether birds attended to one type of alteration over another. Both sexes learned to discriminate normal from altered songs; songs lacking an inter-note interval were more easily discriminated than songs with only the glissando removed. Females performed slightly better than males, including in the most difficult task with the stimuli lacking the glissando. Our study illustrates the value of using perceptual tasks to directly compare performance between the sexes and to demonstrate the difference between perception of and attention to acoustic features of vocal communication. © 2017, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany.

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