Journal article

No need to shout: Effect of signal loudness on sibling communication in barn owls

In animal communication, signal loudness is often ignored and seldom measured. We used a playback experiment to examine the role of vocal loudness (i.e., sound pressure level) in sibling to sibling communication of nestling barn owls Tyto alba. In this species, siblings vocally negotiate among each other for priority access to parental food resources. Call rate and call duration play key roles in this vocal communication system, with the most vocal nestlings deterring their siblings from competing for access to the food item next delivered by parents. Here, we broadcast calls at different loudness levels and call rate to live nestlings. The loudness of playback calls did not affect owlets’ investment in call rate, call duration or call loudness. The rate at which playback calls were broadcast affected owlets’ call rate but did not influence their response in terms of loudness. This suggests that selection for producing loud signals may be weak in this species, as loud calls may attract predators. Moreover, given that owlets do not overlap their calls and that they communicate to nearby siblings in the silence of the night, loud signals may not be necessary to convey reliable information about food need.


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