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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Birdsong

Sparrows name that tune from song snippets

LONDON - Baby songbirds can sing a complete melody after hearing only snippets of the tune, researchers have found. They say the findings could offer clues about how humans learn to talk.

Scientists played a recording of several verses to white-crowned sparrows. Then only the overlapping parts of the verse were played back to the young birds.


White-crowned sparrows like this one helped scientists to understand how birds learn to sing. (Courtesy: Franz Goller, University of Utah)
The sparrows were able to learn the entire song, ABCDE, just from the overlapping pieces, such as AB, BC, CD, DE.

When the birds heard the overlapping parts in reverse order, they sang the song completely backwards as EDCBA, the researchers found.

There are parallels between how songbirds learn to sing and how humans learn to speak, said Gary Rose, a biology professor at the University of Utah.

"Like humans, songbirds learn particular regional dialects, so they represent excellent opportunities to study the physiological basis of language," said Rose, the principal author of the study in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

"If we can understand something about how song is represented in their brains, then maybe we can better understand how speech learning occurs in humans and, when it goes awry, how we might go about fixing it."

Rose's team found young songbirds lay down a long-term memory or template of a song that they later use to sing.

The new findings imply that since the template represents sequence information, it doesn't need to represent the whole song.

"[The results] add confidence to the view that over the next decade there will be dramatic progress in tackling the fundamental physiological questions about the song system, said Daniel Margoliash of the University of Chicago in a commentary accompanying the study.

Written by CBC News Online staff


And, as usual, the scientific eggheads missed out completely on the obvious and the practical of the whole thing, while they were on the subject with them birdies - how to get them to shut their yaps!!! LOL

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