Date of Graduation

5-2015

Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Department or Program

Biology

First Advisor

Nathaniel T. Wheelwright

Abstract

Nestling birds use begging calls to solicit resources from adults. Efficient transmission of calls is necessary for motivating parental feeding and outcompeting siblings. However, ambient acoustic masking and costs such as predation may influence the structure of the calls. While many interspecific comparisons of begging behavior have been made, the ontogeny of calls is understudied. In this study, Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) begging calls were recorded and analyzed at different stages of nestling development to document changes in acoustic structure and gain insight into the selective forces that influence call development. Begging calls increased in peak frequency, frequency range, and amplitude during the 5-day recording period. Call duration did not change with age. Call structure did not differ between nestlings living in distinct acoustic environments. As begging calls increase in amplitude with age, perhaps due to increased food needs and competition from nestmates, nestlings may compensate for increased predation risk by increasing the peak frequency of the calls. Higher frequency calls attenuate more quickly than do low frequency calls and fall outside the frequency range of maximum hearing sensitivity for some potential predators. Previous studies on warbler begging have shown that nestlings of ground-nesting warblers, which are subject to higher rates of predation, beg at higher frequencies than do nestlings of tree-nesting warblers. This study supports the hypothesis that changes to begging call structure during development mirror the differences in call structure of species under different predation risks.

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