Geographical variation in birdsong is taxonomically widespread and behaviourally salient, with females often preferring local over non-local song. However, the benefits associated with this preference remain poorly understood. One potential explanation is that song may reflect a male's place of origin and thus allow females to obtain genes well adapted to the local environment. We studied naturally occurring variation in the degree to which the elements of a male's song repertoire matched those of the local population (‘syllable sharing’) in migratory song sparrows (Melospiza melodia melodia). Syllable sharing was correlated with genetic similarity to the local population, suggesting that song reflects population of origin. Males sharing more syllables also had larger testosterone-dependent traits, fewer blood-borne parasites and reduced indicators of stress. Our findings are consistent with locally good genes models. Alternatively, immigrants' condition may suffer due to unfamiliarity with the breeding site or inability to match song elements during territorial interactions. Females preferring ‘local-sounding’ males may thus obtain genetic and/or direct benefits for their offspring.
Song recording, mist nets and potter traps