According to the social intelligence hypothesis, social context represents an important force driving the selection of animal cognitive abilities such as the capacity to estimate the nature of the social relationships between other individuals. Despite this importance, the influence of this force has been assessed only in primates and never in other animals showing social interactions. In this way, avian communication generally takes place in a network of signallers and receivers, which represents an audience altering individual signalling behaviours. Indeed, vocal amplitude and repertoire are known to be socially regulated and the attitude towards the opposite sex may change depending on the audience. This 'audience effect' provides support for the reality of social awareness in some bird species. However no evidence has yet been found to suggest that birds are able to estimate the characteristics of the social relationships between group-mates. Here we show that the male of a gregarious songbird species--the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)--pays attention to the mating status of conspecific pairs, and uses this information to control its behaviour towards its female partner.
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