Follow the leader? Orange-fronted conures eavesdrop on conspecific vocal performance and utilise it in social decisions


Animals regularly use social information to make fitness-relevant decisions. Particularly in social interactions, social information can reduce uncertainty about the relative quality of conspecifics, thus optimising decisions on with whom and how to interact. One important resource for individuals living in social environments is the production of information by signalling conspecifics. Recent research has suggested that some species of parrots engage in affiliative contact call matching and that these interactions may be available to conspecific unintended receivers. However, it remains unclear what information third parties may gain from contact call matching and how it can be utilised during flock decisions. Here, using a combined choice and playback experiment, we investigated the flock fusion choices and vocal behaviour of a social parrot species, the orange-fronted conure (Eupsittula canicularis), to a contact call matching interaction between two individuals of different sexes and with different vocal roles. Our results revealed that orange-fronted conures chose to follow vocal leaders more often than vocal followers during fusions. Furthermore, flocks responded with higher call rates and matched the stimulus calls closer when subsequently choosing a vocal leader. Interestingly, orange-fronted conures also showed higher contact call rates and closer matches when choosing males over females. These results suggest that paying attention to conspecific contact call interactions can provide individuals with social information that can be utilised during fission and fusion events, significantly influencing the social dynamics of orange-fronted conures.


Thomsen, H. M., Balsby, T. J. S., Dabelsteen, T. 2021. Follow the leader? Orange-fronted conures eavesdrop on conspecific vocal performance and utilise it in social decisions. PLoS ONE. 16(6). e0252374.

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