A weak individual signature might not allow chick call recognition by parent Stone Curlews Burhinus oedicnemus

M. Dragonetti, C. Caccamo, E. Pollonara, N. E. Baldaccini & D. Giunchi (2013). A weak individual signature might not allow chick call recognition by parent Stone Curlews Burhinus oedicnemus. Bioacoustics, Volume 22 (1): 17 -32

Offspring recognition has been confirmed in many bird species, and vocal signatures appear to be its major component. Up to now most studies dealt with colonial species, but recent findings indicate that similar recognition is also present in non-colonial birds. By integrating spectrographic analysis and playback experiments, we investigated for the first time parent–offspring vocal recognition in the Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), a highly vocal, crepuscular-nocturnal species that usually rears a maximum of two precocial and nidifugous chicks. Even though the species is usually non-colonial and non-cooperative, in Taro River Regional Park, Parma, Italy, breeding territories are densely packed with distances between simultaneously active nests as close as 40 m, which creates the possibility that chicks might be exchanged. Our analysis identified two main vocalizations in the chick call repertoire: (1) the S-call, a brief strangled soft sound often uttered when parents and chicks were at close quarters; and (2) the C-call, a chirping sound with a complex structure, which seems to be a long-distance contact vocalization. Our acoustic analysis showed that, even though the structure was remarkably different between chicks, C-calls were an unreliable individual signature given their high intra-individual variability. This was confirmed by playback experiments. Indeed, when presented with simulated C-calling chicks, adults approached both their own and foreign chicks with equal responses. These results suggest that parent Stone Curlews are unable to recognize their offspring by voice. Furthermore, experiments are needed to test whether the chicks are able to recognize their parents' voice and, more generally, to understand the details of parent–offspring communication in this species.


Stone Curlew, Burhinus oedicnemus , individual recognition, playback experiments, spectrographic analysis