Male birds were four times more likely to follow the cues provided by song than by their own observations of the physical environment, the study showed. And even though the male had made a poor choice, the females too trusting for their own good - followed them there.
"We had a lot of birds come to settle in inappropriate habitat, just because they had heard our recorded bird songs there the previous year," Betts said. "We were actually pretty surprised that the effect of this communication was so strong."
The study was done with a single species of songbird, Betts said, but its findings are probably relevant to at least some other songbirds and perhaps other animal species as well. Much is not yet understood about the nature and importance of animal communication, but studies such as this make it clear that animals are, in fact, talking to each other in a social manner with information of considerable significance.
In the natural world, Betts said, there's a cost to making noise of any type among other things, it can alert potential predators to your presence. So "it makes sense that if there's a risk to vocal communication, there must also be some important benefits."
It's been understood for some time, he said, that birds make various noises and songs for specific reasons, such as to defend their territory or attract mates a "soft song" is often used in the presence of the female. This study takes the significance of that communication to a higher level, implying that what a bird hears may be more important than what they actually see or experience.
This ability, he said, may also be highly useful in the advent of climate change or other rapidly changing habitat conditions. It's a valuable shortcut. If birds can simply listen to vocal cues and make rapid decisions about something as im
|Contact: Matthew Betts|
Oregon State University