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Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus

The Eastern whipbird is famous for the precisely coordinated duets sung by mated pairs. Our studies provided the first detailed information about the ecology and breeding behaviour of the eastern whipbird. We found that this species forms stable, socially monogamous pair bonds, with a low divorce rate. The breeding behaviour species was characteristic of old endemic Australian passerines with a small clutch of two eggs, and multiple broods over a long breeding season. Eastern whipbirds also display around six weeks of care to offspring after they have fledged. We found that only the female incubates and broods young, but both sexes feed the offspring, and each care for one offspring exclusively during the post-fledging care stage.

We also spent time investigating the composition and function of the duetting behaviour performed by mated pairs. We compared the behavioral and vocal responses of eastern whipbirds to simulated territorial intrusions by: a solitary singing male; a solitary singing female; and a duetting pair. Interestingly, we found that males and females did not coordinate their approach to the playback speaker, and showed sex-specific responses to the playback. The results suggested that duets allow females to defend their exclusive position in a partnership.

Researcher profile:
This research formed part of a PhD carried out by Dr. Amy Rogers, entitled “The ecology and song of the duetting eastern whipbird (Phosphodes Olivaceus)”.

More information about this research can be found in these publications:

Rogers, AC, Langmore, NE & Mulder, RA (2007). Function of pair duets in the eastern whipbird: cooperative defence or sexual conflict? Behavioral Ecology 18:182-188. Full text

Rogers, AC, Mulder, RA & Langmore, NE (2006). Duet duels: sex differences in song matching in duetting eastern whipbirds. Animal Behaviour 72: 53-61. Full text

Rogers, A & Mulder, RA (2004). Breeding ecology and social behaviour of an antiphonal duetter, the Eastern Whipbird (Psophodes olivaceus). Australian Journal of Zoology 52: 417-435. Full text

Photo: Jim McFerran

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