White-crowned sparrows showed far less interest in the typical song of their species from 1979 compared with the slightly changed version from 2003. Steve Mirsky reports.
Would you rather listen to a new song or a golden oldie? Well, in the world of songbirds, it’s the new tunes that attract attention. A Duke University researcher got recordings of male white-crowned sparrow songs from 1979 and from 2003. They’re very close, but there are some subtle differences. The old version is kinda vintage Michael Jackson, high pitched with rapid trills. The newer version veers more to your Barry White area, lower in pitch and more deliberate trill. Here they both are, the old one first:
Females who heard the newer song exhibited their species typical “how YOU doing” responses. But when they heard the old song, it was more like, “eh.” And males hearing the new song got agitated much more than when their heard the old standard. The study was published in the online version of the journal Evolution. Changes in song, over time or geography, could be the first tiny steps in the development of a new species.