Stephen Nowicki

Stephen Nowicki

Professor of Biology

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Cornell University 1984

  • M.S., Tufts University 1978

  • B.S., Tufts University 1976


Our lab studies animal communication and sexual selection from an integrative perspective that includes a wide range of behavioral ecological, neuroethological, developmental, genetic, and evolutionary approaches. Birds are our most common model system, but we also have worked with insects, spiders, shrimp, lobsters, lizards, and primates, including humans. The central question that drives our work is how information, in the broadest sense of that word, is used by organisms to maximize survival and reproductive success.

Caves, EM, Green, PA, Zipple, MN, Peters, S, Johnsen, S, and Nowicki, S. "Categorical perception of colour signals in a songbird." Nature 560.7718 (August 2018): 365-367. Full Text

Lachlan, RF, Ratmann, O, and Nowicki, S. "Cultural conformity generates extremely stable traditions in bird song." Nature Communications 9.1 (June 20, 2018): 2417-null. Full Text

Liu, IA, Soha, JA, and Nowicki, S. "Song type matching and vocal performance in territorial signalling by male swamp sparrows." Animal Behaviour 139 (May 1, 2018): 117-125. Full Text

Sewall, KB, Anderson, RC, Soha, JA, Peters, S, and Nowicki, S. "Early life conditions that impact song learning in male zebra finches also impact neural and behavioral responses to song in females." Developmental Neurobiology (April 20, 2018). Full Text

DuBois, AL, Nowicki, S, Peters, S, Rivera-Cáceres, KD, and Searcy, WA. "Song is not a reliable signal of general cognitive ability in a songbird." Animal Behaviour 137 (March 1, 2018): 205-213. Full Text

Niederhauser, JM, DuBois, AL, Searcy, WA, Nowicki, S, and Anderson, RC. "A test of the eavesdropping avoidance hypothesis as an explanation for the structure of low-amplitude aggressive signals in the song sparrow." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 72.3 (March 1, 2018). Full Text

Anderson, RC, Searcy, WA, Peters, S, Hughes, M, DuBois, AL, and Nowicki, S. "Song learning and cognitive ability are not consistently related in a songbird." Animal Cognition 20.2 (March 2017): 309-320. Full Text

Peters, S, and Nowicki, S. "Overproduction and attrition: the fates of songs memorized during song learning in songbirds." Animal Behaviour 124 (February 1, 2017): 255-261. Full Text

Dubois, AL, Nowicki, S, and Searcy, WA. "A test for repertoire matching in eastern song sparrows." Journal of Avian Biology 47.2 (March 1, 2016): 146-152. Full Text


Anderson, R, Niederhauser, J, Dubois, A, Nowicki, S, and Searcy, W. "Are Song Sparrow 'Soft Songs' Adapted for Short-range Communication?." March 2017.

Sewall, KB, Anderson, RC, Peters, S, Nowicki, S, and Roth, T. "Social complexity as a driver of communication and cognition." April 2015.

Sewall, KB, Soha, JA, Peters, S, and Nowicki, S. "A possible trade-off between song and a cognitive metric in song sparrows." 2014.

Hoese, WJ, Mooney, R, and Nowicki, S. "Neural encoding of multiple song types in the swamp sparrow HVc." December 2000.

Nowicki, S, Searcy, WA, Hughes, M, and Podos, J. "Sexual selection limits evolutionary innovation in birdsong." 1999.



Selected Grants

Washington Duke Scholars Program awarded by Coca-Cola Foundation, Inc. (Principal Investigator). 2016 to 2021

The COMPASS PROJECT awarded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Principal Investigator). 2014 to 2019

Neural Codes for Vocal Sequences awarded by National Science Foundation (Co-Principal Investigator). 2014 to 2019

2017 - 2018 MMUF awarded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2017 to 2018

AB Duke Scholars awarded by Angier Biddle Duke Memorial (Principal Investigator). 2017 to 2018

Funding for AB Duke Scholars program awarded by Angier Biddle Duke Memorial (Principal Investigator). 2016 to 2017

Collaborative Research: Cognition and Signaling in Songbirds awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2012 to 2016

DISSERTATION RESEARCH: The Role of Mating System in Sperm Competition and Protein Evolution in /Agelaius/ Blackbirds awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2011 to 2014

Impact of early nutrition on neural mechanisms of signal processing awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 2010 to 2013

DISSERTATION RESEARCH: Selective pressures shaping aggressive behavoir in females: an experimental approach awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2007 to 2009