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Sparrow Song

August 6, 2007

Song dialects make a big difference when white-crowned sparrows choose mates and defend territories.


Are some bird songs sexier? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(sfx: campy 70s hit) Some hits from the 1970s just haven’t stood the test of time. It turns out that bird songs may go out of style too. Elizabeth Derryberry of Duke University noticed that white-crowned sparrows recorded recently sound slower and lower in pitch than songs recorded in the same location back in 1979. She then tested the two different dialects on breeding females to see which song they found more appealing in a mate.

I played them both songs and looked at how they responded to those songs and found that females prefer current songs over historical songs.

What’s more, she says, territorial males become more aggressive when they hear the 21st century songs. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.