Bird Song and Operant Experiments: A New Tool to Investigate Song Perception
Song playbacks have now been used for many years to investigate how birds respond to songs. Two methods have generally been used. Experimental songs have been played to either territorial males and the aggressive response measured, or to females treated with sex hormones and the sexual response measured (see chapter by Searcy in this volume). With either method, when birds respond differently to various songs we can conclude that they perceive a difference between them. But what can we conclude when subjects show no difference in response? Either that they do not perceive the difference between the songs, or that this difference is not relevant in distinguishing between territorial intruders or sexual partners. Recently, operant techniques have been developed which allow researchers to remove song from these biological contexts. Subjects are trained to associate certain songs with a food reward. The subjects’ responses to test songs can then be used to determine their perception of the similarity between test and training songs. I review a recent operant experiment investigating the perception of song by birds and discuss the advantages of this procedure.
KeywordsWild Bird Zebra Finch Song Type Territorial Male Playback Experiment
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