During vocal contests, animals alter both the timing and the patterning of responses to their opponents. Time-specific responses (such as overlapping an opponent's song) and pattern-specific responses (such as matching the type of an opponent's song) may reveal information about interacting animals. Here we explore the consequences of overlapping and frequency matching during song contests of male black-capped chickadees, Poecile atricapillus. Using interactive playback, we engaged birds of high and low dominance status in vocal interactions with a simulated territorial intruder. The playback intruder either overlapped or avoided overlapping the subjects' songs and either matched or avoided matching the frequency of the subjects' songs. Individuals who were overlapped by the playback intruder showed higher variability in their song length and song timing than individuals who were not overlapped. Individuals who were frequency-matched by the playback intruder responded with more agitated responses (more flights and passes over the speaker and closer distances of closest approach) and spent more time farther away from the loudspeaker. We argue that the timing of song delivery and the choice of song type are distinct functional components of vocal interactions, where overlapping and matching songs are threatening signals that have separate consequences for opponent behaviour and song performance. High-ranking males responded at greater distances from the loudspeaker in all treatments and responded with lower agitation levels than low-ranking males. We demonstrate that males of different quality show different behavioural responses to territorial intruders, where males of high status appear reluctant to engage an intruder as intensely as males of low status.
Used interactive playback to simulate intrusions by unknown countersinging male chickadees