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Biol Lett. 2013 Sep 25;9(5):20130625. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0625. Print 2013 Oct 23.

Open-ended song learning in a hummingbird.

Author information

  • 1Department of Biology, New Mexico State University, , Las Cruces, NM, USA.

Abstract

Vocal learning in birds is typically restricted to a sensitive period early in life, with the few exceptions reported in songbirds and parrots. Here, we present evidence of open-ended vocal learning in a hummingbird, the third avian group with vocal learning. We studied vocalizations at four leks of the long-billed hermit Phaethornis longirostris during a four-year period. Individuals produce a single song repertoire, although several song-types can coexist at a single lek. We found that nine of 49 birds recorded on multiple days (18%) changed their song-type between consecutive recordings. Three of these birds replaced song-types twice. Moreover, the earliest estimated age when song replacement occurred ranged from 186 to 547 days (mean = 307 days) and all nine birds who replaced song-types produced a crystallized song before replacement. The findings indicate that song-type replacement is distinct from an initial early learning sensitive period. As half of lekking males do not survive past the first year of life in this species, song learning may well extend throughout the lifespan. This behaviour would be convergent to vocal learning programmes found in parrots and songbirds.

KEYWORDS:

Phaethornis longirostris; critical periods; hummingbirds; lek; open-ended song learning; vocal learning

PMID:
24068020
PMCID:
PMC3971712
DOI:
10.1098/rsbl.2013.0625
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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