US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in J. Field Ornithol. 77(4):365–371, 2006.


Territorial songbirds generally use song to defend territories and attract mates, but conspecific song may also serve as a cue to attract other male songbirds to a breeding site. Although known to occur in some colonial and forest-associated species, only recently have investigators examined conspecific attraction in grassland species. We used a playback experiment to examine the possible role of conspecific attraction for males searching for potentially suitable breeding habitat in a grassland specialist, the Baird’s Sparrow(Ammodramus bairdii). Experimental playback plots and control plots with similar landscape and vegetation characteristics were established at two sites in North Dakota. Baird’s Sparrows colonized three of six experimental plots and none of six control plots. Males on experimental plots established territories adjacent to the playback stations and were sometimes observed counter-singing with the playback of conspecific songs. Vegetation characteristics were similar on all study plots, and did not explain differences in bird density on our treatment plots. Although we found that playback of conspecific songs attracted male Baird’s Sparrows to previously unoccupied, potentially suitable habitat, further experiments are needed to examine the importance of conspecific attraction relative to other cues that birds may use, such as vegetation features. The conservation and management implications of conspecific attraction are not completely understood, but the presence of conspecifics should be considered as a potential cue in habitat selection by all species of birds.