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Strauß, Aurelia F. T.; Hutfluss, Alexander and Dingemanse, Niels J. (April 2020): Great tits responding to territorial intrusions sing less but alarm more on colder days. In: Ethology, Vol. 126, No. 4: pp. 445-454 [PDF, 594kB]


Bird song transmits information required to defend territories and attract mates. These functions contribute to fitness by affecting survival and reproductive success. Singing is also costly due to physiological costs. We used observational data to evaluate support for the hypothesis that lower temperatures result in decreased singing behaviour in wild great tits due to increased energy consumption during cold conditions required for thermoregulation. More than 6,500 simulated territorial intrusions were performed over an 8‐year period in twelve nest box populations of great tits Parus major south of Munich, Germany. We measured song rate as well as the number of alarm calls and the aggressive response of territorial males to a simulated territorial intrusion. We found a decrease in song rate with decreasing current temperature, but also a concurrent increase in the number of alarm calls. Night temperature did not affect these acoustic traits. We conclude that warmer conditions allow birds to choose more energetically expensive (yet functionally superior) activities during territorial intrusions, thereby facilitating avoidance of physical aggressiveness during territorial intrusions.

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