Least flycatchers (Empidonax minimus) and American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) overlap in the use of food resources on their breeding grounds, promoting high levels of interspecific aggression by the socially dominant flycatcher. We examined the role of song in this interspecific aggression by using repeated-measures-designed playback experiments and observational data on induced aggressive interactions. Flycatchers were more likely to approach the speaker during presentation of redstart song than during intervals of no song or presentation of control song. Approach was close enough to enable visual contact with a singing redstart. In contrast, redstarts made significantly fewer flights following presentation of flycatcher song, when risk of flycatcher attack may be greatest. Reducing the number of flights likely reduces the risk of flycatcher attack on the redstart, as flycatchers do not attack stationary redstart models and are apparently dependent on cues from redstart flight for visual heterospecific recognition. Flycatcher-specific responses of redstarts and marked differences in song morphology rule out misdirected intraspecific aggression as a proximate or ultimate cause of interspecific response to song. Results indicate that song is an important component in aggressive interactions between these two species, and reflect the dominant role of the flycatcher in such interactions. Our results also illustrate the capacity for interspecific interference competition to influence behavior and heterospecific song recognition in two distant avian taxa.
Song playbacks, song stimuli