Airdate: Jun 18, 2012
Scientist: Nigel Mann
Wrens of Ecuador - Why
Unlike their quieter sisters to the north, female tropical wrens can sing with the best of them.
Wrens of Ecuador - Why
Music; Ambience: Plain-Tailed Wren Song
It sounds like a bird right? Well, that's actually two birds singing a duet that's so well coordinated, it's hard to tell where one begins and the other ends off. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. These are a species of tropical wrens known for their tightly wedded duets. In most North American wren species, only the males sing. But in the tropics of Ecuador, where this recording was made, the male wrens get some help. Nigel Mann is in the department of Biology at the State University if New York in Oneonta. He's been studying this difference in behavior between tropical wrens and their relatives in the north.
"Females tend not to sing, is the traditional story, in northern latitudes, in temperate zones. However, if we move down to the tropics or the subtropics, we find a different pattern. We find that all of the sudden instead of song being a prerogative solely of the males, females are also singing in many, many species. So there's a clear, fundamental difference between the ways in which songs are performed in these two regions the temperate region and the tropical and subtropical region. So, I'm interested in this question about why females are singing, what is important about them being involved in this song process."
Not only do female wrens sing in the tropics, but the male and female songs are so interwoven and precisely timed that from a distance it sounds like an individual bird. The songs are used to communicate territorial ownership, a job traditionally thought to belong only to male wrens.
"So instead of it just being the male's role to defend their territory, to sing, to patrol around the territory trying to deter intruders, we have both the male and the female involved in that particular function."
The need for some beefed up security may have led to an even more unusual singing arrangement for these wrens, and we'll hear about that in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.