Changes in song complexity correspond to periods of female fertility in blue grosbeaks (Guiraca caerulea)

Barbara Ballentine, Alexander Badyaev, Geoffrey E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Song complexity is thought to be a sexually selected trait in passerine birds; however, quantifying relevant parameters of song complexity is the first step in testing the theory that song complexity is a sexually selected trait. We show here that blue grosbeak (Guiraca caerulea) males sing a single song type but the properties of that song type vary between renditions. This pattern of song delivery potentially provides females with an opportunity to assess dimensions of song complexity other then repertoire size. Here we characterize song complexity using four measures: (i) element repertoire size, (ii) proportion of distinct song variant, (iii) song versatility, and (iv) syntax consistency. We studied the functional significance of song complexity by comparing measures of song complexity before and after periods of female fertility. We found that male blue grosbeaks sing more song variants, use more versatile arrangements of elements, and maintain more syntax consistency during the fertile period of their social mate than during their social mate's non-fertile period. These results point to a functional relationship between changes in song complexity and periods of female fertility in this species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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