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Ma, Shouwen; Ter Maat, Andries and Gahr, Manfred (2017): Power-law scaling of calling dynamics in zebra finches. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 7, 8397 [PDF, 1MB]


Social mammals and birds have a rich repertoire of communication calls. Some call types are uttered rarely but in specific contexts while others are produced in large numbers but are not linked to a specific context. An example for the latter is the "stack" call that zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) utter thousands of times per day in a seemingly erratic manner. We quantified this calling activity of captive zebra finches by using on-bird telemetric microphones that permitted a precise temporal resolution. We separated the calling interactions into the reactive and the self-contained calls. Despite a large dynamic range in the succession of calling events, the temporal distribution of the reactive and the self-contained callings was characterized by a power-law with exponents ranging between 2 and 3, which implies that all calls in that scale have similar dynamic patterns. As birds underwent physiological (water availability) and social (separation from the reproductive partner) changes, their calling dynamics changed. Power-law scaling provided an accurate description of these changes, such that the calling dynamics may inform about an individual's physiological and/or social situations state, even though a single "stack" call has no predetermined meaning.

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