Relative Pitch and the Song of Black-Capped Chickadees
Chickadees, like people, have a strong sense of relative pitch. These birds use skillful, precise pitch changes to advertise their quality and attract mates
Black-capped chickadees are familiar residents of North America.
They're known for their "chick-a-dee" call, by which male
and female birds alike keep in touch with their flock. But male
chickadees sing a special song—the "fee-bee"
call—to open the breeding season, and as they do so they
display remarkable musical skill. The authors find that young birds
learn from adult males precise control of relative pitch—the
same ability that allows a barbershop trio to form a tonic triad
from a single starting note. Field observations suggest that
individual males announce their territory with these songs and that
females choose mates based on the precision of their relative pitch.
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