• Shackleton, Scott
  • Ratcliffe, Laurene M.


Black-capped chickadees (Parus atricapillus) have the ability to shift their songs up and down over a wide range of absolute frequencies. Males can shift their songs over 465 ± 52.9 (SE) Hz. During the dawn chorus, males shift their songs by 80 Hz or more every 41 ± 8.8 (SE) songs, but it appears that males can sing at any frequency within their range. Frequency shifting may allow males to match counter-sing with rival males; that is, to switch song output to match that of a rival. During simultaneously recorded dawn choruses, however, there was no correlation over time in the frequency of neighbouring males' songs, nor was there a correlation over time in the size of shifts between their songs. Moreover, males did not match the frequencies of songs presented on a played-back tape at the edge of their territories during the dawn chorus. Matching was observed during some bouts of counter-singing between males. In these cases, matched counter-singing was highly associated with escalation of the conflict. We suggest that frequency matching in this species may be a graded signal that allows the singer to direct aggression towards a particular rival.



This study was performed on male black-capped chickadees at the Queen’s University Biological Station (50 km north of Kingston, Ontario, Canada). The population has been continuously monitored since 1987. All subjects were colour-banded. The data presented here were collected while birds were paired and territorial, but before hatch.