Songbirds, which rely heavily upon acoustic communication, employ a variety of strategies to reduce the degree to which their songs are masked by other sounds within the environment. One such strategy is to make active adjustments to song timing to avoid temporally overlapping other environmental sounds. While playback studies in many different songbird species have demonstrated that territorial males avoid overlapping conspecific songs in that context, there is comparatively little known about how such behavior varies across contexts. For example, there is relatively little information on avoidance of overlapping in naturalistic interactions (e.g., countersinging) among conspecific singers; likewise, few studies have assessed the degree to which males avoid overlapping heterospecific songs. Songbird researchers have also explored possible communicative functions of song overlapping, most notably the idea that overlapping conveys information related to aggression. The objectives of the present study were to compare song overlapping across contexts and to assess the relationship between song overlapping and physical responses to conspecific playback in the Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus). Degree of song overlapping in response to conspecific (n = 29) and heterospecific playback (n = 31), as well as during naturally occurring countersinging (n = 21 pairs), was compared to chance levels. Avoidance of overlapping occurred in all 3 contexts, although to a lesser degree in response to heterospecific playback. Comparison of physical responses to song overlapping during conspecific playback revealed no association, aligning with recent studies in other species indicating that song overlapping is not an aggressive signal. Instead, the avoidance of song overlapping appears to be an important tool for decreasing the risk of acoustic interference posed by both conspecific and heterospecific songs.

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