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Anim Cogn. 2012 Jul;15(4):677-88. doi: 10.1007/s10071-012-0496-8. Epub 2012 Apr 20.

Biological relevance of acoustic signal affects discrimination performance in a songbird.

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Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, P217 Biological Sciences Building, Edmonton, AB, Canada.


The fee-bee song of the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is a two-note, tonal song that can be sung at different absolute pitches within an individual. However, these two notes are produced at a consistent relative pitch. Moreover, dominant birds more reliably produce songs with this species-typical interval, compared to subordinate birds. Therefore, we asked whether presenting the species-typical relative pitch interval would aid chickadees in solving pitch interval discriminations. We found that species-typical relative pitch intervals selectively facilitated discrimination performance using synthetic sine-wave stimuli. Using shifted fee-bee song notes from recordings of naturally produced songs, birds learned the discrimination in fewer trials overall compared to synthetic stimuli. These results may reflect greater generalization among stimuli that occur outside species-typical production parameters. In addition, although sex differences in performance are rarely observed in acoustic discriminations in chickadees, female chickadees performed more accurately compared to males.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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