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Female brown-headed cowbirds' (Molothrus ater) social assortment changes in response to male song: a potential source of public information

Department of Psychology, Indiana University, 1101 E.10th St., IN 47405, Bloomington, USA
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (Impact Factor: 2.75). 01/2003; 53(3):163-173. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-002-0560-5

ABSTRACT In many species, females' behavior appears to be influenced by that of other females, particularly regarding mate choice. Females theoretically can reduce the costs associated with independent male assessment by observing conspecifics. Studies of brown-headed cowbirds suggest that females pay attention to other females' behavior. Group-housed females modify their song preferences, whereas females housed in pairs do not. What information is available to females in a group environment? To address this question, we studied two groups of juvenile (i.e. hatch-year birds) and adult female cowbirds in a naturalistic group setting. We used a longitudinal ABA design, consecutively introducing and removing males that differed in age, amount of song production and stage of song development, to isolate the male characteristics that related to changes in female behavior. Juvenile and adult females assorted by age class when singing adult males were in the aviary, but not when singing juveniles or silent males of any age class were in the aviary. Results from playback tests confirmed that adult male song alone influenced female age class assortment. Videotape analysis from playback tests revealed that females also wing stroked in response to male song. Other females sometimes approached females who wing stroked and observed them. We hypothesize that group-level changes in social organization and individual females' responses can serve as visual signals for other individuals.

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May 22, 2014