The role of parental vocal tutors for male and female song learning (#273)
Young male songbirds learn to sing from adult singing males that act as vocal tutors. The integral role of vocal tutors for song learning has been well documented for species where song is a male-specific trait primarily used for mate attraction and territory defence. Young birds often learn from more than one tutor, which increases their song complexity or song repertoire. Female song has recently been recognised as a widespread trait in songbirds yet there is a lack of understanding about the role adult vocal tutors plays in song learning by males and females. Our research explores the ontogeny of song learning when both the male and female sing. Our study system is the Superb Fairy-wren, Malurus cyaneus. Both males and females sing solo song to defend the year-round territory. We examine the effect of parental vocal tutoring effort on song learning in sons and daughters. We test (1) if there is a correlation between vocal complexity of combined parental element repertoire and offspring element repertoire and (2) if parental vocal tutor song rate predicts the occurrence of elements in offspring song. First, we compared song elements per male and female pair to determine the parental element repertoire, and recorded parental song rate across ten weeks after the nestlings had fledged. Next, we examined fledgling song elements in relation to parental song elements, fledgling sex, and parental tutoring effort. The fledgling song had a combination of shared and unique parental song elements and had similar complexity in sons and daughters. Higher song rate per tutor predicted more unique song elements for that tutor in the song of male and female fledglings. This study shows the effect of vocal tutoring effort on song learning by offspring in a species where both sexes sing, and expands our knowledge on the ontogeny of song learning for male and female songbirds.