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A limit to sustained performance constrains trill length in birdsong

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number108206
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>17/11/2023
Issue number11
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date30/10/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In birds, song performance determines the outcome of contests over crucial resources. We hypothesized that 1) sustained performance is limited within song, resulting in a performance decline towards the end and 2) the impact of song length is compromised if performance declines. To test these hypotheses, we analyzed the songs of 597 bird species (26 families) and conducted a playback experiment on blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus). Our multi-species analysis showed that song performance declines after sustained singing, supporting our hypothesis. If the performance decline is determined by individual attributes (i.e., physical condition), our results explain how trill length can honestly signal quality. Our experiment showed that longer trills of high performance elicited a stronger response during territorial interactions. However, long trills that declined in performance elicited a weaker response than short, high-performance trills. A trade-off between the duration and performance quality of a motor display can be an important aspect in communication across taxa.