IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Sound familiar? Acoustic similarity provokes responses to unfamiliar heterospecific alarm calls


  • Pamela M. Fallow
  • Janet L. Gardner
  • Robert D. Magrath


Eavesdropping on the alarm calls of other species can provide vertebrates with valuable information about danger, and often responses to heterospecific calls seem to be acquired through learning. However, animals might not require learning to respond to heterospecific alarm calls that are acoustically similar to conspecific calls. Although previous work suggests that learning is necessary for superb fairy-wrens to develop responses to heterospecific alarms, acoustic similarity might also be important. We tested whether fairy-wrens responded to playback of unfamiliar alarm calls and if the strength of responses was affected by acoustic similarity to conspecific calls. We then determined which acoustic properties were likely to be used in alarm call identification. Birds fled to cover after playback of calls that were acoustically similar to their own but did not usually respond to less similar calls. Fairy-wren aerial alarm calls are high-frequency and rapidly frequency modulated; their probability of fleeing to playback of unfamiliar calls increased in response to calls with increasing peak frequencies, and they spent more time in cover following calls with a number of frequency cycles similar to their own. Fairy-wrens also responded strongly to relatively dissimilar calls of 1 allopatric species, possibly because these unfamiliar calls resembled those of a sympatric species to which they had learnt to respond. Our study shows that acoustic similarity can prompt responses to heterospecific alarm calls regardless of experience and together with previous work suggests that both acoustic similarity and learning are important for interspecific responses to alarm calls. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Pamela M. Fallow & Janet L. Gardner & Robert D. Magrath, 2011. "Sound familiar? Acoustic similarity provokes responses to unfamiliar heterospecific alarm calls," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 22(2), pages 401-410.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:2:p:401-410

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Branislav Igic & Robert D. Magrath, 2014. "A songbird mimics different heterospecific alarm calls in response to different types of threat," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 25(3), pages 538-548.
    2. repec:oup:beheco:v:26:y:2015:i:5:p:1379-1388. is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:2:p:401-410. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.