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Guess who? Evaluating individual acoustic monitoring for males and females of the Tawny Pipit, a migratory passerine bird with a simple song

Publication at Faculty of Science |


Individual acoustic monitoring (IAM), based on the analysis of vocal cues, is particularly suitable for the identification and tracking of birds with temporally stable song or call characteristics. Unlike mark-recapture methods, IAM does not require the physical manipulation of individuals, which can have long-lasting behavioural effects.

So far, IAM has usually focused on males, as singing females tend to be overlooked in temperate zones. Here, we evaluated the suitability of IAM for both sexes in an isolated population of the Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris, Motacillidae), a migratory Palearctic species critically endangered in Central Europe, for which female singing has been occasionally documented.

We confirmed that songs of all 101 studied individuals, both males and females, were individually distinct. Most individuals used only a single song type in their repertoires, with only three males using two.

Of 45 ringed males (that could be unambiguously recognized visually), only two changed their song structure to some extent, either within or between seasons. Multiple individuals often sang structurally similar song types, which nevertheless consistently differed in minor characteristics; such differences were detectable by visual inspection and also affected quantitative analyses of song similarity.

Songs sung by females did not have any apparent sex-specific characteristics. Unlike previously suggested, females did not adapt their vocalization to their breeding partner, and we presume their song is also temporally stable.

Our findings support IAM as a reliable approach for studying the behaviour and ecology of this passerine species with a small repertoire and simple songs.