Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Moving loons change their tunes

09.03.2006


Jay Mager
A nesting female loon along a swampy lake shore.


Bird experts believed for years that once a bird learned songs, the calls stayed relatively fixed for life. But a new Cornell University study finds that male loons change their tunes when they move into a new territory.

Professor Charles Walcott poses with a toy loon in his office. His latest research provides valuable insights into the loon’s social and territorial behavior, which has implications for conservation efforts.

The study, to be published in the March issue of the international publication Animal Behaviour, reports that while female loons usually disperse over a wide area when ready to breed, males tend to stake claim to a small lake or section of a larger lake near where they were hatched. But rivals often challenge resident males and fight for the territory and the females. The fights can be to the death, with males diving and rising up under a foe in an effort to spear a rival through the chest and heart with his long, pointed beak.



It turns out that the victor gets more than the female -- he gets a new voice: He changes his vocalization, called a yodel, to a new call that is very different from the loser’s yodel.

"It’s as if they are trying to say, ’I’m the new boy on the block,’" said the paper’s lead author, Charles Walcott, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell. "Why that should be important, we really don’t know."

The researchers recorded 527 yodels of 16 male loons on 21 lakes at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Seney, Mich., and 3,107 yodels of 82 loons on 63 lakes near Rhinelander, Wis. All the birds were banded as part of well-studied populations.

Yodels of male loons are unique from their neighbors on other lakes and stay stable from year to year. But, of 13 male loons whose yodels were recorded before and after they changed territories, 12 substantially changed their yodels within two years, and the new resident’s yodel changed in ways that increased its difference from that of the previous resident.

"This result implies that loons not only change their vocalizations as the birds change territory, but also that the new owner is familiar with the yodel of the resident that it replaces," said Walcott. And, nobody yet knows whether other species of birds also change their tunes when they move into a new territory.

Some biologists have advocated using sound as a way to identify specific birds, as opposed to netting and tagging birds, which may be traumatic. "But since the loons change their vocalizations, it means you can’t do that," said Walcott.

The research provides valuable insights into the loon’s social and territorial behavior, which has implications for conservation efforts, Walcott noted. With legs near the back of the body, these streamlined, fish-eating water birds are awkward and vulnerable on land, so they prefer to nest in swampy areas with easy access to deep water. But, as more people build houses along lake shores, the loon’s swampy nesting habitats near the shores are increasingly replaced with lawns. As a result, people build nesting platforms for loons on the water. But the loons fight over the platforms, which has led in some areas to too much fighting and not enough breeding. Researchers now recognize the need to coordinate where and how many such platforms are put on a lake.

"By understanding the loons’ social system, we can help people and loons live together," said Walcott.

The study was funded by the Whitehall Foundation, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the National Science Foundation and Cornell. Co-author Walter Piper, a biologist at Chapman University, contributed the behavioral analysis while Walcott and graduate student Jay Mager focused on collecting and analyzing the acoustic data.

Blaine Friedlander | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cornell.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Stiffness matters
22.02.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Separate brain systems cooperate during learning, study finds
22.02.2018 | Brown University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stiffness matters

22.02.2018 | Life Sciences

Magnetic field traces gas and dust swirling around supermassive black hole

22.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals

22.02.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>