Zoology Faculty Work


Female dark‐eyed juncos Junco hyemalis thurberi produce male‐like song in a territorial context during the early breeding season

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Avian Biology

Volume Number


Issue Number





Reports of female song, once considered a rarity, have recently increased across a variety of avian taxa. Females of many species can be induced to produce male‐like song with exogenous testosterone, but observations of female song in free‐living birds remain limited by incomplete sampling of females. Here, we report three independent observations of female dark‐eyed juncos Junco hyemalis producing male‐like song early in the breeding season (i.e. post‐territory establishment, pre‐nesting) in a recently established non‐migratory, urban population. To elicit song, we presented 17 free‐living junco pairs with a live, caged female conspecific. Three unique females responded to our trials by diving at the intruding female, chasing their (male) mate, fanning their tail feathers, and singing a trilled song similar in structure to male long‐range (broadcast) song. We compared male and female songs quantitatively and found that the two sexes were statistically similar in many spectral and temporal characteristics, but female songs had significantly lower minimum and peak frequencies than males. This result is particularly surprising, as males in this urban population are known to sing at a significantly higher minimum frequency than males in a nearby montane population. Both the seasonal and social context in which these songs were observed suggest a potential function for female song in mate guarding and polygyny prevention, but more data are needed to test this hypothesis. Whether female song is common in all dark‐eyed juncos during the early breeding season or if it is restricted to this particular urban and non‐migratory population remains an important question for future research.



This document is currently not available here.