Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

William A. Searcy

Second Committee Member

Albert C. Uy

Third Committee Member

Don de Angelis

Fourth Committee Member

Michael E. McCullough

Fifth Committee Member

Christopher Templeton


Interactions in which individuals exchange vocal signals are an important aspect of communication in many species. Human conversation provides one familiar example. Other examples drawn from songbirds are countersinging between territorial males and duetting between mated males and females. The development of vocal signals such as human speech and the song of songbirds has been amply studied, but, we know significantly less about the development of the rules that mediate vocal interactions in these groups. Because of the interactive nature of duets, duetting species provide an ideal model system to study the development of vocal interaction rules. Duets involve specific relationships among the vocalizations from different individuals. Two vocal interaction rules arise from these relationships: precise temporal coordination in the responses to a partner and non-random association of song types (i.e. duet codes). In this dissertation I study the proximate and developmental mechanisms by which a Neotropical bird, the canebrake wren (Cantorchilus zeledoni) acquire both vocal interaction rules. Regarding temporal coordination, results in this dissertation indicate a) that canebrake wrens achieve temporal coordination by dynamically modifying their singing tempo based on their own and their partner’s feedback, b) temporal coordination is acquired during early development very likely through learning and c) after re-pairing canebrake wrens perform duets with lower coordination but improve with time, indicating that they need a rehearsal period to achieve highly coordinated duets with a new partner. Regarding duet codes, my dissertation research indicates a) that juvenile canebrake wrens learn the duet codes of the adults they are reared by and b) adult canebrake wrens must learn a new duet codes when they acquire a new partner. Overall, results show that duet coordination and duet codes are honest indicators of pair-bond duration. In this dissertation I also provide evidence that vocal interaction rules in humans and songbirds are analogous and thus, the study of duetting rules in songbirds could help us understand the development, function, and mechanics of human conversation rules. These studies are the first to report the development of interaction rules in birds.


duet; song learning; duet ontogeny; duet code; canebrake wren; birdsong