Quirks & Quarks

Songbirds practice their love songs in the off-season

Practice makes Mr. Perfect for songbirds, who rehearse outside of mating season

Practice makes Mr. Perfect for songbirds

Great Reed Warbler (Ron Knight, cc-by-2.0)
Listen8:15
The Great Reed Warbler is a songbird that migrates from its breeding ground in Europe to its wintering ground in sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists were puzzled why the warbler, and many other songbirds there, continued making their mating calls at a time and place in which breeding opportunities do not exist.

Now a new study by Dr. Marjorie Sorensen, a Canadian scientist who did her research in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge in England, found that the birds were practising their mating calls to give them a competitive edge during the next mating season.

The birds with the more complex songs - including the warbler - rely more on singing than plumage to attract a mate. Those birds were found to practice more and even add syllables to their songs during the off-season.

Related Links

Paper in The American Naturalist
- Summary in The American Naturalist
Smithsonian magazine story
The Atlantic story
New Scientist story

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