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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Sep 22;276(1671):3319-25. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0580. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

Acoustic mate copying: female cowbirds attend to other females' vocalizations to modify their song preferences.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


We conducted a tutoring experiment to determine whether female brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) would attend to vocalizations of other females and use those cues to influence their own preferences for male courtship songs. We collected recordings of male songs that were unfamiliar to the subject females and paired half of the songs with female chatter vocalizations-vocalizations that females give in response to songs sung by males that are courting the females effectively. Thus, chatter immediately following a song provided a cue indicating that the song was sung by a male who was of high-enough quality to court a female successfully. Using a cross-over design, we tutored two groups of females with song-chatter pairings prior to the breeding season. In the breeding season, we placed the tutored females into sound-attenuating chambers and played them the same songs without the chatter. Females produced significantly more copulation solicitation displays in response to the songs that they had heard paired with chatter than to songs that had not been paired with chatter. This experiment is the first demonstration that females can modify their song preferences by attending to the vocal behaviour of other females.

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