Sound localization in a small passerine bird: Discrimination of azimuth as a function of head orientation and sound frequency

Brian S. Nelson, Roderick A. Suthers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Sound localization is critical to communication when signalers are distributed widely in space and when reverberations that accumulate over distance might otherwise degrade temporal patterns in vocalizations. We readdress the accuracy with which a small passerine bird, the eastern towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus L., is able to resolve azimuth in the field. We then report results from two-alternative forced-choice (2AFC) experiments in which three of four subjects were able to discriminate an estimated speaker separation angle of approximately 7°. Subjects oriented laterally when discriminating azimuth in the 2AFC task and each subject preferred a different head orientation. Side biases occurred as a function of head orientation and, as a consequence, we conducted a second 2AFC experiment in which subjects were required to discriminate between two closely spaced lights. Subjects oriented similarly in this visual task, however, side biases did not occur as a function of head orientation. Despite side biases in the auditory task, performance generally declined when subjects were played tones with frequencies near ∼3 kHz.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4121-4133
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Nov 1 2004



  • Azimuth
  • Orientation
  • Songbird
  • Sound localization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)

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