As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Why some birds sing elaborate songs in the winter

Male great reed warblers may be practicing how to woo

5:00PM, FEBRUARY 4, 2016

WHY SING IN WINTER  Marjorie Sorensen, tracking bird movements in a seasonally flooded valley in Zambia (left), is studying why great reed warblers (one shown, right) overwintering there sing so much.

Europe’s great reed warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and some other male long-distance migrants sing extensively when overwintering in sub-Saharan Africa, says Marjorie Sorensen, now at Goethe University in Frankfurt. “Why are they doing this when they’re thousands of kilometers from any possible breeding opportunity?”

Singing seems costly. Reed warbler songs — “very harsh-sounding and creaking,” Sorensen says — are changeable compositions made up from a male’s repertoire of some 40 to 60 sounds. Tests find that singing demands about 50 percent more energy than reed warblers spend resting. Plus, singing cuts into foraging time and risks catching predator attention.  

Warbler in winter
Biologists largely expected the wintertime musical extravagance to be territory defense. But the birds creak variations of courtship serenades instead of shorter territorial anthems, Sorensen and her colleagues report in the March American Naturalist. And instead of squabbling over their patches, the warblers freely crisscross the landscape. Nor did testosterone elevation left over from the previous breeding season play a role — levels had dropped to winter lows.

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