4aAB2 – “Seemingly simple songs: Black-capped chickadee song revisited” – Allison H. Hahn – Christopher B. Sturdy

Seemingly simple songs: Black-capped chickadee song revisited” –

Allison H. Hahn – ahhahn@ualberta.ca
Christopher B. Sturdy – csturdy@ualberta.ca


University of Alberta

Edmonton, AB, Canada


Popular version of paper 4aAB2, “Seemingly simple songs: Black-capped chickadee song revisited”
Presented Thursday morning, November 5, 8:55 AM, City Terrace Room
170th ASA Meeting, Jacksonville, Fl


Vocal communication is a mode of communication important to many animal species, including humans. Over the past 60 years, songbird vocal communication has been widely-studied, largely because the invention of the sound spectrograph allows researchers to visually represent vocalizations and make precise acoustic measurements. Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus; Figure 1) are one example of a songbird whose song has been well-studied. Black-capped chickadees produce a short (less than 2 seconds), whistled fee-bee song. Compared to the songs produced by many songbird species, which often contain numerous note types without a fixed order, black-capped chickadee song is relatively simple, containing two notes produced in the same order during each song rendition. Although the songs appear to be acoustically simple, they contain a rich variety of information about the singer including: dominance rank, geographic location, and individual identity [1,2,3].

Interestingly, while songbird song has been widely-examined, most of the focus (at least for North Temperate Zone species) has been on male-produced song, largely because it was thought that only males actually produced song. However, more recently, there has been mounting evidence that in many songbird species, both males and females produce song [4,5]. In the study of black-capped chickadees, the focus has also been on male-produced song. However, recently, we reported that female black-capped chickadees also produce fee-bee song. One possible reason that female song has not been extensively reported is that to human vision, male and female chickadees are visually identical, so females that are singing may be mistakenly identified as male. However, by identifying a bird’s sex (via DNA analysis) and recording both males and females, our work [6] has shown that female black-capped chickadees do produce fee-bee song. Additionally, these songs are overall acoustically similar to male song (songs of both sexes contain two whistled notes; see Figure 2), making vocal discrimination by humans difficult.

Our next objective was to determine if any acoustic features varied between male and female songs. Using bioacoustic techniques, we were able to demonstrate that there are acoustic differences in male and female song, with females producing songs that contain a greater frequency decrease in the first note compared to male songs (Figure 2). These results demonstrate that there are sufficient acoustic differences to allow birds to identify the sex of a signing individual even in the absence of visual cues. Because birds may live in densely wooded environments, in which visual, but not auditory, cues are often obscured, being able to identify the sex of a bird (and whether the singer is a potential mate or territory rival) would be an important ability.

Following our bioacoustic analysis, an important next step was to determine whether birds are able to distinguish between male and female songs. In order to examine this, we used a behavioral paradigm that is common in animal learning studies: operant conditioning. By using this task, we were able to demonstrate that birds can distinguish between male and female songs; however, the particular acoustic features birds use in order to discriminate between the sexes may depend on the sex of the bird that is listening to the song. Specifically, we found evidence that male subjects responded based on information in the song’s first note, while female subjects responded based on information in the song’s second note [7]. One possible reason for this difference in responding is that in the wild, males need to quickly respond to a rival male that is a territory intruder, while females may assess the entire song to gather as much information about the singing individual (for example, information regarding a potential mate’s quality). While the exact function of female song is unknown, our studies clearly indicate that female black-capped chickadees produce songs and the birds themselves can perceive differences between male and female songs.




Figure 1. An image of a black-capped chickadee.


Figure 2. Spectrogram (x-axis: time; y-axis: frequency in kHz) on a male song (top) and female song (bottom).

Sound file 1. An example of a male fee-bee song.

Sound file 2. An example of a female fee-bee song.



  1. Hoeschele, M., Moscicki, M.K., Otter, K.A., van Oort, H., Fort, K.T., Farrell, T.M., Lee, H., Robson, S.W.J., & Sturdy, C.B. (2010). Dominance signalled in an acoustic ornament. Animal Behaviour, 79, 657–664.
  2. Hahn, A.H., Guillette, L.M., Hoeschele, M., Mennill, D.J., Otter, K.A., Grava, T., Ratcliffe, L.M., & Sturdy, C.B. (2013). Dominance and geographic information contained within black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) song. Behaviour, 150, 1601-1622.
  3. Christie, P.J., Mennill, D.J., & Ratcliffe, L.M. (2004). Chickadee song structure is individually distinctive over long broadcast distances. Behaviour 141, 101–124.
  4. Langmore, N.E. (1998). Functions of duet and solo songs of female birds. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 13, 136–140.
  5. Riebel, K. (2003). The “mute” sex revisited: vocal production and perception learning in female songbirds. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 33, 49–86
  6. Hahn, A.H., Krysler, A., & Sturdy, C.B. (2013). Female song in black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus): Acoustic song features that contain individual identity information and sex differences. Behavioural Processes, 98, 98-105.
  7. Hahn, A.H., Hoang, J., McMillan, N., Campbell, K., Congdon, J., & Sturdy, C.B. (2015). Biological salience influences performance and acoustic mechanisms for the discrimination of male and female songs. Animal Behaviour, 104, 213-228.

1pABb1 – Mice ultrasonic detection and localization in laboratory environment – Yegor Sinelnikov

Mice ultrasonic detection and localization in laboratory environment


Yegor Sinelnikov – yegor.sinelnikov@gmail.com
Alexander Sutin, Hady Salloum, Nikolay Sedunov, Alexander Sedunov
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ 07030

Tom Zimmerman, Laurie Levine
DLAR Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11790

David Masters
Department of Homeland Security
Science and Technology Directorate
Washington, DC


Popular version of poster 1pABb1, “Mice ultrasonic detection and localization in laboratory environment”
Presented Tuesday afternoon, November 3, 2015, 3:30 PM, Grand Ballroom 3
170th ASA Meeting, Jacksonville


A house mouse, mus musculus, historically shares the human environment without much permission. It lives in our homes, enjoys our husbandry, and passes through walls and administrative borders unnoticed and unaware of our wary attention. Over the thousands of years of coexistence, mice excelled in a carrot and stick approach. Likewise, an ordinary wild mouse brings both danger and cure to humans todays. A danger is in the form of rodent-borne diseases, amongst them plague epidemics, well remembered in European medieval history, continue to pose a threat to human health. A cure is in the form of lending themselves as research subjects for new therapeutic agents, an airily misapprehension of genomic similarities, small size, and short life span. Moreover, physiological similarity in inner ear construction, brain auditory responses and unexpected richness in vocal signaling attested to the tremendous interest to mice bioacoustics and emotion perception.

The goal of this work is to start addressing possible threats reportedly carried by invasive species crossing US borders unnoticed in multiple cargo containers. This study focuses on demonstrating the feasibility of acoustic detection of potential rodent intrusions.

Animals communicate with smell, touch, movement, visual signaling and sound. Mice came well versed in sensorial abilities to face the challenge of sharing habitat with humans. Mice gave up color vision, developed exceptional stereoscopic smell, and learned to be deceptively quiet in human auditory range, discretely shifting their social acoustic interaction to higher frequencies. They predominantly use ultrasonic frequencies above the human hearing range as a part of their day-to-day non aggressive social interaction. Intricate ultrasonic mice songs composed of multiple syllable sounds often constituting complex phrases separated by periods of silence are well known to researchers.

In this study, mice sounds were recorded in a laboratory environment at an animal facility at Stony Brook University Hospital. The mice were allowed to move freely, a major condition for their vocalization in ultrasonic range. Confined to cages, mice did not produce ultrasonic signals. Four different microphones with flat ultrasonic frequency response were positioned in various arrangements and distances from the subjects. The distances varied from a few centimeters to several meters. An exemplary setup is shown in Figure 1. Three microphones, sensitive in the frequency range between 20 kHz and 100 kHz, were connected to preamplifiers via digital converters to a computer equipped with dedicated sound recording software. The fourth calibrated microphone was used for measurements of absolute sound level produced by a mouse. The spectrograms were monitored by an operator in real time to detect the onset of mice communications and simplify line data processing.


Sinenikov fig 1

Figure 1. Setup of experiment showing the three microphones (a) on a table with unrestrained mouse (b),  recording equipment preamplifiers and digitizers (c) and computer (d).
Listen to a single motif of mice ultrasonic vocalization and observe mouse movement here:

This sound fragment was down converted (slowed down) fifteen times to be audible. In reality, mice social songs are well above the human audible range and are very fast. The spectrograms of mice vocalization at distances of 1 m and 5 m are shown in Figure 2. Mice vocalization was detectable at 5 m and retained recognizable vocalization pattern. Farther distances were not tested due to the limitation of the room size.

The real time detection of mice vocalization required detection of the fast, noise insensitive and automated algorithm. An innovative approach was required. Recognizing that no animal communication comes close to become a language, the richness and diversity of mice ultrasonic vocalization prompted us to apply speech processing measures for their real time detection. A number of generic speech processing measures such temporal signal to noise ratio, cepstral distance, and likelihood ratio were tested for the detection of mice vocalization events in the presence of background noise.  These measures were calculated from acoustical measurements and compared with conventional techniques, such as bandpass filtering, spectral power, or continuous monitoring of signal frames for the presence of expected tones.



Figure 2. Sonograms of short ultrasonic vocalization syllables produced by mice at 1 m (left) and 5 m (right) distances from microphones.  The color scale is in the decibels.

Although speech processing measures were invented to assess human speech intelligibility, we found them applicable for the acoustic mice detection within few meters. Leaving aside the question about mice vocalization intelligibly, we concluded that selected speech processing measures enabled us to detect events of mice vocalization better than other generic signal processing techniques.

As a secondary goal of this study, upon successful acoustic detection, the mice vocalization needed to be processed to determine animal location. It was of main interest for border patrol applications, where both acoustic detection and spatial localization are critical, and because mice movement has a behavioral specificity. To prove the localization feasibility, detected vocalization events from each microphone pair were processed to determine the time difference of arrival (TDOA). The analysis was limited to nearby locations by relatively short cabling system. Because the animals were moving freely on the surface of a laboratory table, roughly coplanar with microphones, the TDOA values were converted to the animal location using simple triangulation scheme. The process is illustrated schematically in Figure 3 for two selected microphones. Note that despite low signal to noise ratio for the microphone 2, the vocalization events were successfully detected. The cross correlograms, calculated in spectral domain with empirical normalization to suppress the effect of uncorrelated noise, yielded reliable TDOA. A simple check for the zero sum of TDOA was used as a consistency control. Calculated TDOA were converted into spatial locations, which were assessed for correctness, experimental and computational uncertainties and compared with available video recordings. Despite relatively high level of technogenic noise, the TDOA calculated locations agreed well with video recordings. The TDOA localization uncertainty was estimated on the order of the mouse size, roughly corresponding to several wavelengths at 50 kHz. A larger number of microphones is expected to improve detectability and enable more precise three dimensional localization.

Hence, mice ultrasonic socialization sounds are detectable by the application of speech processing techniques, their TDOA are identifiable by cross correlation and provide decent spatial localization of animals in agreement with video observations.



Figure 3. The localization process. First, the detected vocalization events from two microphones (left) are paired and their cross correlogram is calculated (middle). The maxima, marked by asterisks, define a set of identified TDOA.  The process is repeated for every pair of microphones. Second, the triangulation is performed (right). The colored hyperbolas illustrate possible locations of animal on a laboratory table based on calculated TDOA. Hyperbolas intersection provides the location of animal. The numbered squares mark the location of microphones.


1The constructed recording system is particularly important for the detection of mice in containers  at US ports of entry, where low frequency noises are high. This pilot study confirms the feasibility of using Stevens Institute’s ultrasonic recording system for simultaneous detection of mice vocalization and movement.

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. The views and conclusions contained in this paper are those of the authors and should not necessarily be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.




4pAB3 – Can a spider “sing”? If so, who might be listening? – Alexander L. Sweger, George W. Uetz

Can a spider “sing”? If so, who might be listening?

Alexander L. Sweger – swegeral@mail.uc.edu
George W. Uetz – uetzgw@ucmail.uc.edu
University of Cincinnati
Department of Biological Sciences
2600 Clifton Ave, Cincinnati OH 45221

Popular version of paper 4pAB3, “the potential for acoustic communication in the ‘purring’ wolf spider’
Presented Thursday afternoon, May 21, 2015, 2:40 PM, Rivers room
169th ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh

While we are familiar with a wide variety of animals that use sound to communicate- birds, frogs, crickets, etc.- there are thousands of animal species that use vibration as their primary means of communication. Since sound and vibration are physically very similar, the two are inextricable connected, but biologically they are still somewhat separate modes of communication. Within the field of bioacoustics, we are beginning to fully realize how prevalent vibration is as a mode of animal communication, and how interconnected vibration and sound are for many species.

Wolf spiders are one group that heavily utilizes vibration as a means of communication, and they have very sensitive structures for “listening” to vibrations. However, despite the numerous vibrations that are involved in spider communication, they are not known for creating audible sounds. While a lot of species that use vibration will simultaneously use airborne sound, spiders do not possess structures for hearing sound, and it is generally assumed that they do not use acoustic communication in conjunction with vibration.
The “purring” wolf spider (Gladicosa gulosa) may be a unique exception to this assumption. Males create vibrations when they communicate with potential mates in a manner very similar to other wolf spider species, but unlike other wolf spider species, they also create airborne sounds during this communication. Both the vibrations and the sounds produced by this species are of higher amplitude than other wolf spider species, both larger and smaller, meaning this phenomenon is independent of species size. While other acoustically communicating species like crickets and katydids have evolved structures for producing sound, these spiders are vibrating structures in their environment (dead leaves) to create sound. Since we know spiders do not possess typical “ears” for hearing these sounds, we are interested in finding out if females or other males are able to use these sounds in communication. If they do, then this species could be used as an unusual model for the evolution of acoustic communication.


Figure 1: An image of a male “purring” wolf spider, Gladicosa gulosa, and the spectrogram of his accompanied vibration. Listen to a recording of the vibration here,

and the accompanying sound here.

Our work has shown that the leaves themselves are vital to the use of acoustic communication in this species. Males can only produce the sounds when they are on a surface that vibrates (like a leaf) and females will only respond to the sounds when they are on a similar surface. When we remove the vibration and only provide the acoustic signal, females still show a significant response and males do not, suggesting that the sounds produced by males may play a part in communicating specifically with females.

So, the next question is- how are females responding to the airborne sound without ears? Despite the relatively low volume of the sounds produced, they can still create a vibration in a very thin surface like a leaf. This creates a complex method of communication- a male makes a vibration in a leaf that creates a sound, which then travels to another leaf and creates a new vibration, which a female can then hear. While relatively “primitive” compared to the highly-evolved acoustic communication in birds, frogs, insects, and other species, this unique usage of the environment may create opportunities for studying the evolution of sound as a mode of animal communication.

Tags: animals, vibrations, acoustics, communication, spiders