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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The effect of hunger on the acoustic individuality in begging calls of a colonially breeding weaver bird

Hendrik Reers1* and Alain Jacot12

Author Affiliations

1 Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics Group, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, D 82319, Germany

2 Swiss Ornithological Institute, Field Station Valais, CH-3970 Salgesch, Switzerland

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BMC Ecology 2011, 11:3  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-3

Published: 26 January 2011



In colonially breeding birds, the ability to discriminate between individuals is often essential. During post-fledging care, parents have to recognize their own offspring among many other unrelated chicks in the breeding colony. It is well known that fledglings and food-provisioning parents of many bird species use contact calls to convey their identity. These calls are also often used as hunger-related signals of need in young birds. Here, we investigate how such calls incorporate signals of need and at the same time act as reliable indicators of each chick's identity.


In a field study, we experimentally manipulated the hunger level of colonially breeding Jackson's golden-backed weaver (Ploceus jacksoni) nestlings close to fledging and investigated its effects on acoustic call parameters. Some acoustic parameters that were related to the time-frequency pattern showed high individuality and were largely unaffected by a nestling's state of hunger. However, the majority of call parameters were significantly affected by hunger. Interestingly, most of these acoustic parameters showed both consistent changes with hunger and high between-individual differences, i.e. potential for individual recognition.


The results indicate that individual recognition processes can be based on static, hunger-independent call parameters, but also on dynamic hunger-related parameters that show high individuality. Furthermore, these signal properties suggest that the assessment of signals of need can be improved if the signal value is referenced to a chick's vocal spectrum.