Cross-fostering diminishes song discrimination in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)

Dana L.M. Campbell, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Song-production, -discrimination, and -preferences in oscine birds are dually influenced by species identity and the ontogenetic environment. The cross-fostering of a model species for recognition research, the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) into heterospecific nests of the Bengalese finch (Lonchura striata vars. domestica) allows an exploration of the sensory limits of early development and the effects of species-specific acoustic cues upon song discrimination in adulthood. To quantify the song preferences of female and male normal-reared (control) and Bengalese finch fostered zebra finches, we recorded multiple behavioral measures, including spatial proximity, vocalization rates and response latency, during sequential song-playback choice-trials using both tutor species' songs and the songs of two other ecologically relevant Australian species, the owl finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii) and the star finch (Neochmia ruficauda). Response strength was variable between the different measures, but no differences were detected within the specific behavioral responses towards the song playbacks of the two sexes. Control subjects strongly preferred their own species' songs while Bengalese-fostered zebra finches exhibited reduced song discrimination between con-, tutor-, and heterospecific songs. Overall behavioral responsiveness was also modulated by social ontogeny. These results indicate a difference in the strength of preference for song that is dependent on the species identity of the rearing environment in oscine birds and illustrate the role of multiple behavioral measures and ecologically relevant stimulus species selection in behavioral research using zebra finches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-490
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Birdsong
  • Cross-fostering
  • Discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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