Bilateral coordination and the motor basis of female preference for sexual signals in canary song

Roderick A. Suthers, Eric Vallet, Michel Kreutzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations


The preference of female songbirds for particular traits in the songs of courting males has received considerable attention, but the relationship of preferred traits to male quality is poorly understood. Female domestic canaries (Serinus canaria, Linnaeus) preferentially solicit copulation with males that sing special high repetition rate, wide-band, multi-note syllables, called 'sexy' or A-syllables. Syllables are separated by minibreaths but each note is produced by pulsatile expiration, allowing high repetition rates and long duration phrases. The wide bandwidth is achieved by including two notes produced sequentially on opposite sides of the syrinx, in which the left and right sides are specialized for low or high frequencies, respectively. The emphasis of low frequencies is facilitated by a positive relationship between syllable repetition rate and the bandwidth of the fundamental frequency of notes sung by the left syrinx, such that bandwidth increases with increasing syllable repetition rate. The temporal offset between notes prevents cheating by unilaterally singing a note on the left side with a low fundamental frequency and prominent higher harmonics. The syringeal and respiratory motor patterns by which sexy syllables are produced support the hypothesis that these syllables provide a sensitive vocal-auditory indicator of a male's performance limit for the rapid, precisely coordinated interhemispheric switching, which is essential for many sensory and motor processes involving specialized contributions from each cerebral hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2950-2959
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • A-syllable
  • Female preference
  • Hemispheric specialization
  • Honest signal
  • Minibreath
  • Syringeal lateralization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology
  • Insect Science
  • Aquatic Science

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