In sexually selected signals, distinct components often have specific signal value in mate choice or male–male competition. In songbirds, structural song traits such as trills, that is, a series of repetitive notes, can be important in female choice. However, little is known about their signal value in male–male interactions. Here, we investigated the hypothesis that males assess the competitive abilities of rivals based on the use and performance of rapid broadband trills produced within songs. Using a 2-speaker playback experiment, we exposed territorial male nightingales, Luscinia megarhynchos, that differed in their subsequent pairing success, to a simulated vocal interaction between 2 unfamiliar rivals. The singing of the 2 simulated rivals differed in the number of songs containing rapid broadband trills. Subjects responded significantly more strongly to the loudspeaker that broadcast songs containing such trills than to the loudspeaker that broadcast exclusively songs without such trills. Moreover, responses also depended on the fine structure of trills. Males that became paired later in the season significantly increased their response intensity with increasing trill performance, whereas males that remained unpaired responded in the opposite way and decreased their response intensity with increasing trill performance. These results indicate that rapid broadband trills are a signal of aggression and that the nature of the response in vocal interactions reflects aspects of the challenged male's fitness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Journal publication date2008

ID: 253476