27 October 2017
By Andy Coghlan
For the first time, female dark-eyed juncos have been found to burst into song in the wild. Although many female tropical birds sing, singing females are rare among northern, temperate songbirds. However, the behaviour is now becoming more common, and climate change may mean it becomes even more widespread.
Dustin Reichard of Ohio Wesleyan University knew that female dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) sometimes sang in captivity, but only after being injected with testosterone. To find out if they sang in the wild, he and his colleagues goaded them by placing a live, caged female in their territories. The researchers also played recordings of a soft trill that females make when they are receptive to mating.
In all, 17 females, along with 25 males, interacted with the caged females. Half the females dived and lunged at them, and a minority also performed aggressive tail-spreads not normally seen in females. Three of the females sang songs similar to those of males.