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Adelaide's Warbler Setophaga adelaidae

Judith D. Toms
Version: 1.0 — Published May 28, 2010

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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The Pip call is a brief, fairly quiet, high-pitched note, which may be given singly or in series (Staicer 1991).  Single pips are given by females changing perches, or in series at the end of a male song as part of a duet (Staicer 1991). The sharpness and tone of pip calls differ slightly between males and females (pers. obs.). Both sexes use pips in territorial battles.

Chitburst calls are used as part of a stereotyped display in territorial battles (see Behavior).  Chitbursts are loud, harsh notes (they can be heard for 1-2 territories),  given in a series (Staicer 1991).  Chitbursts often draw mates across their territory.  Females sometimes chitburst after a duet, territorial battle or playback (Staicer 1991).

Chip calls are used more often by females, and seem to indicate lesser degrees of aggression (Staicer 1991).  They will also draw mates from other areas of their territory.  Females sometimes chip during territorial battles, and may chip with winter resident warblers in the early morning and late afternoon (Staicer 1991).

Adelaide's Warblers also use an alarm call, a series of short, quiet, very high-pitched calls, when predators are in the vicinity (Staicer 1991).  Twitters, a faint, rapid trill, are used by both sexes during sexual chases, pre-copulatory displays and copulation (Staicer 1991).

The male song usually is described as a loud trill that may increase or decrease in pitch, and may slow at the end or have isolated end notes (Spaulding 1937, Raffaele 1989).  (Representative songs may be heard here, here, and here.) In fact, individual Adelaide’s Warblers have a large song repertoire, averaging 23 song types per individual (range 18-26; Staicer 1991, 1996a). Song types are shared with neighbors in the immediate area (within 500 m), and neighbors counter-sing using matching song types (Staicer 1996a). However, only some song types are shared; 63 song types were used by 16 males resident in a 15 ha study area (Staicer 1996b).  Most song types have a range of less than 1 km (Staicer 1991).  Non-territorial males sometimes sing quietly (Staicer 1991).

Sonograms of A and B song types.  From Staicer (1996b), p. 777.Song types fall into two categories that are used in different circumstances: song category A (also called repeat mode or Type I song in other species) is used for mate attraction and interaction among mates; song category B (also called serial mode or Type II in other species) is used during the breeding season (particularly during dawn choruses and when females are incubating) and for close-range aggression among males (Staicer 1996a). Interestingly, the same song type can be used by males in different song categories, although individual males use a given song type in only one category (Staicer 1996a). A songs generally are a trill that gradually changes in the average or range of pitch; B songs are slightly lower pitched and more constant in pitch, but often include abrupt changes between different note types (Staicer 1996a). Males also switch song types more frequently when singing B songs, and have more B songs in their repertoire (Staicer 1996a).  Males share more B songs than A songs with their neighbors (Staicer 1991).  Song sequence is a more reliable indicator of song type than song structure (Staicer 1996a), and may be how dispersing males determine what song types to use in which circumstance. In general, B songs are learned from territorial neighbors during interactions (Byers and Kroodsma 1992, Lemon et al. 1994).

Male singing from an exposed perch.  (J. Toms)

Males sing throughout the day, but sing more frequently during the morning (Danforth 1926, Staicer 1996b). They sing in a dawn chorus (starting 40 min before sunrise) only during the breeding season; the dawn chorus consists of rapid B songs (Staicer 1996b). After sunrise, they switch to singing a mixture of A and B songs at a slower rate. In the non-breeding season, they begin singing only 10-15 min before sunrise, and sing A songs almost exclusively (at a relatively slow rate; Staicer 1996b).  However, they may sing a short bout of B songs at dusk (Staicer 1991). Unpaired males sing category A songs at a higher rate than paired males, but pairing status makes no difference in the use of B songs (Staicer 1996b).  Males do not sing B songs in the presence of females, and switch to A songs within 10 m of the nest (Staicer 1991).

Males also have a song used only during copulation (see also Sexual Behavior).  The copulation song is typically a twitter or trill of high-pitched notes, overlapping the female's twitter, which grades into a normal A song, which grades into another twitter (Staicer 1991).  The A song used during the copulation song may be incomplete or a different type than the preceding A song.

Approximately 20% of females sing (although only 10% sing regularly); these typically are older females (Staicer 1991).  Female song is simpler and lower-pitched than male song, and notes may quaver (Staicer 1991).  Females sang early in the nesting cycle and during the fall.  Female songs usually appeared to be spontaneous, although females may sometimes sing in response to male song or playbacks; males sometimes respond to female song (Staicer 1991).  Females often sang when implanted with estradiol (Staicer 1991), suggesting that hormonal levels may be important.

Song repertoires appear to be established or modified after natal dispersal (Staicer 1991).  Two-month old fledglings sing sub-song, notes that are not organized into songs; 4-6 month-old fledglings sing quiet, plastic songs, with notes that were more variable than adults; 6-9 month-old males establishing territories sing songs that are variable in structure, and appear to start copying songs from their neighbors (Staicer 1991).  This capacity to learn new songs continues in mature males (Staicer 1991).

Nonvocal Sounds

Often snap their bill during feeding, producing a sound "like that made by the breaking of tiny dried twigs" (Spaulding 1937).

Sonograms of A and B song types.

From Staicer (1996b), p. 777.

Male Adelaide's Warbler singing from an exposed perch.

(Judith Toms)

Recommended Citation

Toms, J. D. (2010). Adelaide's Warbler (Setophaga adelaidae), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.adewar1.01