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Use of simple graded signals in the long-distance vocal communication of a forest thrush (Catharus fuscescens)

Christopher M. Heckscher (2022). Use of simple graded signals in the long-distance vocal communication of a forest thrush (Catharus fuscescens). Bioacoustics, Volume 31 (1): 91 -123



I investigated the use of simple graded structures (i.e. ‘calls’) in long-distance vocal communication among territorial forest-dwelling Catharus fuscescens – an oscine passerine that also possesses a complex song. Two experiments were conducted: (1) Nests were threatened in three different contexts to test the effect of increasing motivation on three response variables (call form, rate, amplitude), and (2) a playback study was undertaken to quantify the accomplishments of graded call structures on territory-holders. Results from the two experiments showed that long-distance communication in the focal species is dependent on two concurrent aspects of communication: (1) Acoustic cues to signaller motivation via call rate, (2) spectral cues that reveal directivity – either precisely or imprecisely – that complement the perception of signaller location via distance assessment (ranging). Simultaneously, amplitude and bandwidth are adjusted to beam signals across various distance intervals. Therefore, to affect conspecific behaviour, a signaller can alter vocal cues to manipulate an assessor’s perception of signaller location while revealing motivation. This study reveals the foundational components of short and long-distance communication with the use of simple graded calls by a forest-dwelling oscine passerine. It is similar to long-distance communication networks documented in some parrots, marine mammals, and primates.


Assessment/Management, Catharus, motivation-structural rules, songbird, Veery