Comparative bioacoustics I: Birds & Reptiles 

(week 2, 3 ECTS) 

In this module we will review the production, nature, function and evolution of acoustic signals in birds and reptiles. Within the framework of the Mathematical Theory of Communication, we will see how birds code information in their vocalizations. We will see how songbirds learn their songs, and the anatomical basis of their production. We will review acoustic communication in Reptiles. We will see how birds and reptiles localize a sound source. We will emphasize the evolutionary drivers of acoustic communication in birds.


© Nicolas Mathevon

During the practical sessions, we will use sound analysis software (SEEWAVE R package, BIOSOUND Python package or AVISOFT software). Research talks on bird acoustic communication networks and evolution of communication will expose you directly to current research.


Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, a successful student should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of how bird and reptile acoustic signals are produced, structured and perceived;

  2. Demonstrate an understanding of song learning in songbirds;

  3. Demonstrate an understanding of the evolutionary drivers of acoustic communication in birds.

  4. Demonstrate a good understanding of tools for analysing and synthesizing bird songs.


Provisional Schedule

Monday 20th September

Morning Lecture: Production and acoustics of bird vocalisations. Biological roles of acoustic communication in birds. Static and dynamic information coding in songs and calls. Vocal repertoires. Non-vocal signals.

Afternoon Practical: Environmental constraint on acoustic communication in birds (long-range propagation, noise). Effects of anthropogenic noise on birds.

Assignment of scientific papers that will be presented on Friday (1/student).


Tuesday 21th September

Morning Lecture: Song learning and plasticity. Memory in songbirds. Culture and genetics. Neural circuits for birdsong learning and production.

Afternoon Practical: Sexual selection on bird acoustic signals. Duetting behaviour. Female songs.

Wednesday 22th September

Morning Lecture: Acoustic communication in crocodiles and other reptiles. Comparative hearing birds and reptiles.

Afternoon Practical: Sound localisation in birds and reptiles


Thursday 23th September

Morning Lecture: The evolution of bird acoustic communication. Communication networks. Parent-offspring communication. Alarm and distress calls. Host-parasite communication.

Afternoon Practical: Case studies: The evolution of drumming in woodpeckers. The geographical variation of songs in the screaming piha. Analysis of vocal signatures. How to use sound libraries for a scientific study.


Friday 24th September

Morning: Research talks and supervised study time.

Lunch: ENES lab talk

Afternoon: Oral presentations of scientific papers (tutored).

Organiser: Nicolas Mathevon

Guest speakers (provisional list): Thierry Aubin, Sébastien Derégnaucourt, Tudor Draganoiu, Livio Favaro, Maxime Garcia, Mark Hauber, Leo Papet, Fanny Rybak, Frédéric Sèbe, Toshitaka Suzuki, Julie Thevenet.


The final mark will be based on the oral presentation of a scientific paper (duration = 10 min + 5 min questions).

© Nicolas Mathevon

© Nicolas Mathevon


© Nicolas Mathevon


© Nicolas Mathevon