Wiley, R. H., B. J. Hatchwell and N. B. Davies.   1991.   Recognition of individual males' songs by female dunnocks: a mechanism increasing the number of copulatory partners and reproductive success.   Ethology 88:   145-153.


Previous studies have shown that a female dunnock Prunella modularis increases her reproductive success on average by copulating with more than one male resident on her territory and thereby obtaining extra help in raising offspring. Here we document behavior by females that affects which males copulate with them.

We found that, during her period of receptivity to copulation, a female in a territory shared by two males often left the dominant (or alpha) male, which guarded her most of the time, and approached the subordinate (or beta) male when he sang.

A female's responses to individual males thus tends to increase her own reproductive success by increasing her chances for copulation with both males sharing her territory. Playbacks of tape-recorded songs in the field showed that females approached only songs of resident males, not neighbors.

Females can therefore discriminate individual males by their songs alone, a capability not previously established for female songbirds. Despite intensive guarding of females by males, mating success among male dunnocks depends in part on female choice.

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