Improvisation of new notes during singing by male Sardinian warblers Sylvia melanocephala

Luschi, P. (1993). Improvisation of new notes during singing by male Sardinian warblers Sylvia melanocephala. Bioacoustics, Volume 4 (4): 235 -244

The songs of Sardinian warblers Sylvia melanocephala are extremely complex and variable, and even consecutive songs uttered by the same male usually differ. To provide a better understanding of the nature of the variation recorded, an attempt has been made to determine size and composition of the note repertoire of three selected individuals. The analysis was carried out on samples each consisting of several dozen songs, and the various notes were sorted on the basis of the visual similarity of their spectrographic patterns. Each male turned out to have a very large note repertoire which does not show any overlap with those of other males, with the only exception a particular note found in the songs of all the males. In two birds out of three, however, the graphs of the occurrence of new notes in consecutive songs show no tendency to become asymptotic. This suggests that the assessment of note repertoire size in these birds is not accurate, as they continue inserting new notes in their songs even after they have uttered several dozen songs. A table recording the presence or absence of the various notes in consecutive songs revealed that at least two of the three birds used different sets of notes in different bouts of songs, switching from one to another after short pauses made between two consecutive bouts. All this makes the attempt to assess the actual size of the note repertoire in these birds very difficult, and makes it probable that Sardinian warblers do not possess a finite repertoire of notes. The pattern of note selection observed for the three males in this study is best explained by assuming that these birds improvise new notes as they sing.