Seasonal variation in the duetting behaviour of rufous-and-white wrens (Thryothorus rufalbus)

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Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology





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Seasonal variation in animal signalling behaviour has been well documented and has contributed much to our understanding of male signals. In contrast, we know little about seasonal variation in female signals or signals produced jointly by males and females, such as the vocal duets of birds. Here, we examine how singing behaviour changes in relation to time of year and breeding stage in rufous-and-white wrens (Thryothorus rufalbus), neotropical songbirds where both males and females sing and where breeding partners coordinate songs to produce vocal duets. We recorded a colour-marked population of birds over an extended time period encompassing multiple breeding stages. Across all time frames and breeding stages, males sang at higher rates than females and male solos were more common than duets or female solos. Males and females showed divergent seasonal patterns of singing. Females sang more often early in the year, during the pre-breeding season, and female song tapered off as the breeding season progressed. Duetting followed a parallel pattern, which resulted from females showing less duet responsiveness to their partner's songs later in the year. Male independent song rate peaked at the onset of the rainy season - a time when females become fertile - and males showed the highest level of duet responsiveness during this period. Our results suggest that early in the year, duets appear to be cooperative displays, functioning in joint territory defence and/or the coordination of breeding activities. When females are fertile, however, increased duet responsiveness by males is consistent with mate or paternity guarding. © 2007 Springer-Verlag.