Aspects of frequency discrimination in passerine birds and pigeons

J. M. Sinnott, M. B. Sachs, Robert D. Hienz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Used a positive reinforcement technique to measure pulsed-tone, frequency difference limens (DLs) in 7 redwing blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and 7 brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). Direct comparisons were made with 2 nonpasserine control pigeons and the 1st author. Blackbirds were more sensitive than pigeons to frequency changes above 1.0 kHz but less sensitive below 1.0 kHz. DLs in all Ss were within the range of nonhuman mammals but higher than those of humans. The lowest differential frequency sensitivity/standard frequency (Δf/f) ratio for all Ss occurred at 4.0 kHz, a frequency for which they exhibit minimal absolute auditory thresholds and which is a dominant component in the redwing song. As in humans, blackbird sensitivity at 1.0 and 2.0 kHz declined as sensation level (SL) was decreased, but at 4.0 kHz, sensitivity had no clear dependence on SL. At 8.0 kHz, blackbird sensitivity increased with a decrease in SL. This latter frequency is a dominant component in the cowbird song. Differences in frequency sensitivity were also found as a function of the direction of frequency shift from the standard: Upward shifts produced lower DLs at 1.0 and 2.0 kHz, and downward shifts produced lower DLs at 8.0 kHz. (35 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-415
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 1980


  • frequency differential limens using pulsed-tone, redwing blackbirds vs cowbirds vs pigeons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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