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Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)

Amos 26 Oct 08 - 01:57 PM
McGrath of Harlow 26 Oct 08 - 07:53 PM
Gurney 27 Oct 08 - 12:29 AM
catspaw49 27 Oct 08 - 03:05 AM
Amos 27 Oct 08 - 09:38 AM
Amos 27 Oct 08 - 11:18 AM
maeve 05 Apr 09 - 06:38 PM
Rowan 06 Apr 09 - 06:29 PM
katlaughing 06 Apr 09 - 06:49 PM
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Subject: How the Wild Bird Learns to SIng (Science)
From: Amos
Date: 26 Oct 08 - 01:57 PM

They're teenagers, and they're off somewhere listening to music. Fortunately for Chris Templeton, these are song sparrows, so he can put radio transmitters on them to figure out where they go.

He's guessing—remember he's working with birds—that the young song sparrows have slipped off to go to school. Or to wherever it is in the shrubbery that they find tutors and learn to sing.

Lab studies show that song sparrows, and probably half of known bird species, have to learn the species-specific songs they need for communicating in romance or war. Birdsong, Templeton says, "is a really important model system for understanding how humans learn language." The avian descendants of dinosaurs evolved their communication independently from people. So the aspects of learning that turned out the same, as well as those that turned out different, intrigue scientists studying the brain and language.

Birds learn songs, but there's no evidence that other birds teach them—at least not in the human sense of doing something special, such as singing extra slowly in front of the chicks. Young birds do seem to listen to adults, though, and somehow end up learning a song from certain grown-ups while ignoring others.

A human might be tempted to conclude that finding the grown-up models would be easy, that a baby bird picks up the songs of its parent.

Don't bet on it, Templeton says.

Scroll down to see a diagram on how a sparrow learns to sing.

To study who learns what from whom, he and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle have slipped into the shrubbery too. They've lugged their high-tech tracking equipment after song sparrows in the city's Discovery Park, and followed when the youngsters roamed into Seattle's streets, backyards and a military base. Templeton has been threatened with calls to the police, stonewalled by residents who don't answer doors for strangers carrying weird gear and presented with the limp body of a study subject, pried away, too late, from the family cat. "Most research on song learning has been done in the lab—and there are good reasons for this," Templeton says of his travails.

Full article here.

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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 26 Oct 08 - 07:53 PM

All sounds very similar to the way humans seem to pick up language, and change it.

On the train up to London from where I live there are all kinds of people from abroad, because we've git an international airport a few stations back, plus, of course, there are lots of foreigners living and working here.

So I find myself overhearing some foreign language, and trying to guess whether they're Russian or Polish or Dutch or whatever. Languages that I don't know.

But several times lately I've been doing that, and I suddenly realize they are talking English. I don't mean foreigners talking English in a foreign accent - I mean young English people, taking English in a way that didn't sound familiar till I listened and tuned into it, and I don't mean the vocabulary, but the sound, the music, you might say.

The relevance of that is that they didn't learn that from their parents or schools - like those young birds they picked it up from what they were hearing all around them.

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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: Gurney
Date: 27 Oct 08 - 12:29 AM

We might think it music, but I suspect that to most birds it is a challenge.
"Stay out of my patch, blackbirds, or I'll spifflicate you!"

Some birds do learn songs. Starlings imitate other birds, and other noises they hear. I've even heard one that I'm sure was trying to imitate a motor engine.

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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: catspaw49
Date: 27 Oct 08 - 03:05 AM

Ya' know....and oddly enough this is true....Billie Sol Estes once had a plan to train hundreds of parakeets to fly across major cities while singing in unison, "I like Ike." Billie did a lot better selling non-existent anhydrous ammonia tanks.

On the other hand I seem to remember some typical California goofball who spent his entire life teaching a Macaw to sing all the verses to "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom." Sadly, before he could document this, the Macaw was eaten by a homeless drunk who thought it was a scrawny blue chicken.

Seriously though, its amazing what birds can be taught.   When I was a kid the Myna birds were extremely popular and so were the Brazilian Crunchies until they were banned from being imported. A guy named Kerry Tompkins in East Rutherford was arrested and that began the start of the precedings which ended in the stopping of the importation of the rare species. Tompkins went into the All-Avian Pet and Supply store and saw one of the Brazilian birds. The clerk advised against the purchase and explained it wasn't a good pet when left uncaged in the home. He showed how the bird would act upon voice command. The clerk said, "Crunchy Bird table" and the bird flew over and destroyed the table like a buzzsaw. He then said "Crunchy Bird chair" and the bird destroyed the chair in the same fashion. Tompkins insisted on the purchase anyway. Upon arriving home Tompkins was accosted by his overbearing wife who demanded to know what the hell Kerry had brought home. He removed the bird from its carrier and proudly said it was a Brazilian Crunchy Bird. His wife scoffed at him and replied, "Crunchy Bird my ass." She bled to death before help could arrive.


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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: Amos
Date: 27 Oct 08 - 09:38 AM

An old one, nicely re-garbed, Pat. :D


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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: Amos
Date: 27 Oct 08 - 11:18 AM

THis is kind of like the way young learn tyo use their thumbs to fly through mazes of menus and send 32 text messages before their parents can figure out how to read one coming in. It boggles the mind. They "hang out", they say, but what they are really doing is massive cross-osmosis of skills and knowledge.


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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: maeve
Date: 05 Apr 09 - 06:38 PM

I found this interesting thread while flitting through some bird threads. Seems worth a refresh now that spring is sort of here in Maine


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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: Rowan
Date: 06 Apr 09 - 06:29 PM

Lyrebirds are champion imitators. Sherbrooke Forest is a patch of tall eucalypt forest near Ferntree Gully (the end of the suburban railway line and start of the Puffing Billy line; it has a lot of tourists walking through and they all want to catch a glimpse of the local lyrebirds and (hopefully) take a picture.

They'll imitate other birds, of course, but any other sound they hear as well, like chainsaws, motor car engines, dogs barking and even camera shutter releases the soft click of a COmpur shutter going off was gradually replaced by the clack-k of the Pentax focal plane shutter. One of David Attenborough's bits and bobs showed a lyrebird imitating the shutter release and subsequent motorised film advance of even more modern cameras.

One character practised a mozart flute piece over and over at his house in northern NSW near lyrebird territory and subsequently heard partsd of it that the bird liked sung back to him.

All to show off the testosterone level, much like some musos I know, and for much the same purposes.

Cheers, Rowan

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Subject: RE: Why the Wild Bird Sings (Science)
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Apr 09 - 06:49 PM

I missed this thread, thanks for the refresh, maeve.

Mockingbirds will imitate to beat the band. I cannot tell you how many times I thought I heard a cat stuck somewhere only to find a mockingbird in a tree. They were uncannily authetic sounding.

I love this last bit:

Males face off in territorial disputes by singing to each other, and Beecher has found that repeating a rival's song back to him counts as a strong move. Learning a variety of the neighborhood songs could mean that a young male has his sassy comeback ready.

So for song sparrows that stay put year-round, choosing songs could be the first step in a world of musical warcraft. For other species, the dynamics differ, but the principle is the same: Song matters.

There are a lot of links to birdsong sites HERE.

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