Responses to playback of whistle songs and normal songs in male nightingales: Effects of song category, whistle pitch, and distance

Marc Naguib*, Roger Mundry, Henrike Hultsch, Dietmar Todt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


In most species of song birds, males develop song repertoires of several different songs. Among this variety, different songs may be used differently in communication and, thus, may have different functions. Here we studied vocal responses to playback of structurally different songs in male territorial nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos). Nightingales have enormous vocal repertoires of about 200 song types. Among these songs, one category, whistle songs, sticks out syntactically and acoustically. Here we tested whether or not male nightingales match whistle songs with whistle songs and, if so, whether they also match the pitch of the broadcast whistles. Furthermore, we also tested if nightingales treat whistle songs as a separate category of songs. We conducted interactive playback experiments on nocturnal song in which each male received three playback treatments that differed in the number of whistle songs broadcast. Males responded differently during playbacks by singing significantly more whistle songs when the playback tapes contained many whistle songs than when they contained no whistle songs. Males also frequently matched the pitch of the broadcast whistle songs. In contrast to responses during playback, after the playback terminated males sang more whistle songs when no whistle songs were broadcast than when many whistle songs were broadcast. These findings suggest that whistle songs have a specific signal value and that nightingales treat them as a special song category. Electronic supplementary material to this paper can be obtained by using the Springer Link server located at

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-223
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Bird song
  • Long range communication
  • Luscinia megarhynchos
  • Song matching
  • Vocal interactions


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