• Pfaff, Jeremy A.
  • Zanette, Liana
  • MacDougall-Shackleton, Scott A.
  • MacDougall-Shackleton, Elizabeth A.


Complex birdsong is a classic example of a sexually selected ornamental trait. In many species, females prefer males with large song repertoires, possibly because repertoire size is limited by the size of song control nuclei which reflect developmental success. We investigated whether song repertoire size was indicative of brain area and male quality in song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) by determining if repertoire size was related to the volume of song control nucleus HVC, as well as several morphological, immunological and genetic indices of quality. We found that males with large repertoires had larger HVCs and were in better body condition. They also had lower heterophil to lymphocyte ratios, indicating less physiological stress and a robust immune system as measured by the number of lymphocytes per red blood cell. Song repertoire size also tended to increase with neutral-locus genetic diversity, as assessed by mean d2, but was not related to internal relatedness. Our results suggest several mechanisms that might explain the finding of a recent study that song sparrows with large song repertoires have higher lifetime fitness.


Birds captured in potter traps or mist nets and colour banded. Blood samples taken and brains collected from some.