Male zebra finches respond to the audience

July 22, 2004

Males regulate their own behaviour towards their female partners in the light of observations on other boy-and-girl pairs. So far, so student-party. But this is behaviour observed not in humans, but in a gregarious songbird, the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), as Nicolas Mathevon and colleagues show in the July 22 issue of Nature. These findings support the “social context hypothesis,” in which the behaviour of an animal’s peers is an important driver of the selection of its cognitive abilities, including the capacity to estimate the nature of the social relationships between other individuals. The influence of this force has been assessed only in primates and never in other animals showing social interactions. Birds, however, sing
to one another, and the volume and repertoire of birds’ songs are known to vary according to the nature and sex of the audience. This “audience effect” provides support for the reality of social awareness in some bird species. Until now, however, no evidence had been found to suggest that birds are able to estimate the characteristics of the social relationships between group-mates.

Abstract © 2004 Nature

“Audience drives male songbird response to partner’s voice,” Clémentine Vignal, Nicolas Mathevon and Stéphane Mottin, Nature, July 22, 2004

Nicholas Mathevon, Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne, France