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Components of variation in female common cuckoo calls

Deng, Zhuqing and Lloyd, Huw and Xia, Canwei and Møller, Anders and Liang, Wei and Zhang, Yanyum (2018) Components of variation in female common cuckoo calls. Behavioural Processes, 158. pp. 106-112. ISSN 0376-6357

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Abstract

Investigations on bird vocalizations have largely focused on males. Female vocalizations are widespread in birds but few studies have investigated female vocal characteristics, particularly in non-Passeriformes. In this study, we use new field recordings from China, and calls available from an online sound library to examine temporal patterns, call consistency and geographical variation in vocalizations of female common cuckoos Cuculus canorous. The peak in vocal activity (both male and female) was in the morning, which contrasts to what would be predicted if the sole function of the female call was to distract the attention of hosts after parasitizing a host’s nest in the afternoon. Both male and female common cuckoos were more vocally active in sunny weather, than rainy weather. We also found larger intra-individual variation in female rather than in male calls, which may benefit female cuckoos by increasing stimulation to host species. Peak frequency of female calls decreased with increased latitude, while differences in female call features were not associated with geographic distance. In summary, our findings that female calls are used in the morning, rather than at peak egg laying, yet are highly variable and show little geographic patterns suggest that the function of these female calls may be more variable and intricate than previously thought. However, because research on female vocalizations is underrepresented, future studies are still needed.

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