The Graduate Program in

Birdsong During Spring Migration


Rachel Bolus is a PhD student in OEB who will study the singing and migratory behaviors of small songbirds. In particular, she will focus on the common yellowthroat, shown above. The yellowthroat is a warbler, a group well known for its musical songs and small size. Male common yellowthroats only sing during spring migration and during the breeding season. In the breeding season, singing is thought to attract mates and to aid in defending territories, where the males and their mates raise their young in nests. During spring migration, however, birds migrate individually, do not hold territories (although they may briefly defend patches of food- like banks of flowers that attract insects for them to eat), and do not have offspring. Therefore, the reasons for singing during spring migration are not so clear. Rachel hopes to test if males and females respond to song differently during migration than they do in the breeding season, and which factors (e.g. sex, age, size, timing of migration, etc.) predict whether or not they will respond to song. Knowing who is listening may inform us of song's purposes. She also wants to test if hearing song can affect the termination and orientation of migration of females, as it affects hormones, which also affect migration. That is, what are the effects of listening, and can it affect migratory behavior, as well as aid in breeding decisions? Lastly, she wants to analyze the song patterns of dialects of migrants that pass through the northeast, to see if song can give us insight into the movement patterns of populations.

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