Airdate: Mar 12, 2002
Scientist: Jordan Price
Stripe Backed Wrens: Name Songs
The bloodlines of stripe-backed wrens can be identified by their distinct repertoire of songs.
ambience: stripe backed wren "way" song
Mr. Wren, I presume? We're listening to the "way call" of a stripe-backed wren. Biologists in Venezuela have discovered that these calls are passed down from generation to generation... much like a human surname. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. A way call is a quiet song that a male wren uses to identify himself with his territory. Jordan Price's territory is with the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. While studying the way calls, of tropical stripe backed wrens, he noticed something unusual.
"All of the males within a particular group would have an identical repertoire of calls. Like, one male would have a repertoire of, of twelve different 'way calls' and another male would have that exact same repertoire. But then a neighboring group would have a set of entirely different way calls."
ambience: stripe backed wren "way" call
"This particular population has been studied for several decades, and they've all been color marked with bands for individual recognition, with leg bands. And people had been able to work genealogical histories for these birds, so I was actually able to go back through these family trees and figure out who was related to whom."
After examining the family history of the birds, Price discovered that he could match specific 'way' calls to males within a particular bloodline - suggesting that these calls were passed down within family groups.
"When these stripe backed wren groups had similar 'way calls' I was able to go back and find that they actually shared this paternal ancestor. So these calls appeared to be passed down from male to male in this population, much like last names are passed down in many human societies."
Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.