When breeding conditions are favourable, Australian wild zebra finches sing more with others nearby. Their song varies depending on their breeding stage and attracts other zebra finches. According to Wageningen University & Research researchers, one possible explanation for this behaviour is that birds try to influence each other’s breeding behaviour by singing. The research has been published in the journal Current Biology.
This finding is remarkable because scientists generally believe that birds sing for two reasons. One is to defend their territory and another is to attract a mate. “These explanations do not apply to wild zebra finches,” says scientist Hugo Loning. “Zebra finches are not territorial and frequently find a mate early in life. Furthermore, partners are extremely faithful, so cheating is uncommon.”
Singing in groups
“As a result, as a zebra finch, you can infer local breeding conditions simply by listening. In that context, it stands to reason that birds are drawn to song.”
One possible explanation is that zebra finches use their song to synchronise their breeding activity. Because they live in an unpredictable environment. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is much safer if everyone reproduces at the same time to reduce the chances of predators eating the chicks. Furthermore, having peers around is probably beneficial to the chicks’ social development.
The most studied songbird in the world
Although zebra finches are one of the world’s most studied songbirds, almost all of the research is done on captive birds. This study significantly improves our understanding of zebra finch singing behaviour in the wild.
“Zebra finches are hardy and adapt well to captivity. It made them an important animal model for research. However, ecologically significant questions such as why they sing have never been addressed ” Loning states.
More information: Hugo Loning et al, The social role of song in wild zebra finches, Current Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.11.047